Piper was having a bad day, but it was better than Frank’s. They started out hunting down a monster that had been terrorizing Piper’s school. It had been causing her and Jason problems with their teachers and seriously messing up her GPA (the only thing worse than fourth block calculus is having to leave and fight a giant wolf with red eyes and razor sharp teeth). So, a few days into the Argo II’s reunion over February break, they decided to leave Piper’s dad’s house and go kill it. Because that’s what good friends do.
They followed the wolf through three different towns, fighting it a few times a day. It always slipped away when it started to lose a fight.
They found themselves fighting the wolf in the middle of a run-down McDonald’s. Jason was tangled in a bundle of wires that hung from the ceiling.
“I’m fine!” he assured her, “I barely feel the shocks!”
That wasn’t very reassuring, but considering he was a son of Jupiter, and was immune to electrocution, Piper figured that she had more pressing matters at hand. Percy and Annabeth stood at different doors, keeping the beast inside the fast food restaurant. Hazel had her spatha drawn and was keeping the wolf away from Leo. Leo was standing on the counter, spraying gas from the gas stove and lighting it on fire in short bursts, dousing the wolf with flames every time it threw Frank against a wall. Frank was doing most of the fighting. He changed into a large, golden lion and attacked the evil wolf claw to claw and teeth to teeth. The wolf was still larger than him, and much faster and stronger. The sight of them fighting made Piper glad she was a vegetarian. Fur flew from Frank’s mane as the wolf slashed its claws across his face. It was a nightmare. Frank just couldn’t keep up. The wolf teeth were black and sharp as knives, its claws were long and curved. Even its fur was hard and sharp, as it the beast was carved from rock. What was worse though, were its eyes. Bright, piercing red. They seemed to stare into Piper’s soul. She hated those eyes. When her friends said they would hunt the wolf down with her and Jason, Jason was thrilled. Even Piper was sure that the wolf would not be able to survive an attack from all seven of them. They had crossed the world! Fought giants! They had put Gaea herself back to sleep. They had among them a current Praetor of New Rome and two former Praetors. A master strategist and two people who had come back from the dead. But no matter how hard they tried, this wolf got the best of them.
The beast darted across the restaurant. Throwing off Frank and running to the door only to get a sword in the snout from Percy, running back to the middle to throw Frank against another wall (poor Frank), only to get sprayed with fire from Leo. Running toward Leo, only to get a jab from Hazel. Seven against one (six since Jason was indisposed) and they were still barely keeping it at bay.
Piper watched the action, trying to figure out how to help. It looked hopeless. She had fought the beast for months now, she knew better than to hope it would tire. Frank lunged at the wolf, mid-charge he changed from a lion to a bull. His head rammed into the wolf and sent it sprawling against the opposite wall. Piper saw that its stomach was also covered with hard, black fur. But as it rolled over to stand again, Piper saw a flash of skin, right next to its right front leg. She didn’t hesitate. She launched herself onto the wolf and brought her knife down to the piece of skin.
As she lowered her knife, time seemed to slow, she looked at the wolf and saw that it’s eyes started to glow brighter than before. Just for a moment the room was filled with red light. When the light subsided Pipers knife followed through towards the ground, but the wolf was no longer there. Instead there was, what looked like, a large crater that had opened up in the floor.
Piper didn’t have time to look at her friends before they were sucked into the void, screaming at the top of their lungs.
The good news: Piper landed on something soft, the bad news: that something was Frank.
“Sorry!” she yelled, scrambling off Frank’s stomach and standing up.
“Ugh.” said Frank, now in human form. He rolled onto one side and stayed there, keeping his eyes closed.
Piper looked at her friends, all of them had been sucked through… whatever that was. Now they were lying in the middle of what looked like a closed Barnes and Nobles. The wolf was nowhere to be seen. Probably good since Leo was clinging to the top of a large bookcase with his hair on fire, Frank looked as though he had fallen unconscious, Percy was cursing in every language he knew whilst digging himself out of a cookbook avalanche, and Jason, apparently having cut the wires at the perfect time to get sucked through the crevice, was untangling himself from the excess wire with his hair sticking up from the electricity. Not the best conditions to fight an unkillable wolf. Piper and Annabeth helped Percy dig himself out of the cook books while Hazel got Leo off from the top of a bookshelf.
Once the team was safe on the floor of the bookshop and everyone had escaped their entanglements, Hazel and Leo made Frank drink some nectar while Annabeth went outside to see how far they had traveled. Piper hoped they were in the Barnes and Noble a few blocks from her house, but she did not recognize the street outside the window.
“So”, Percy leaned back against a bookshelf, “portals huh?”
“I don’t know,” Jason ran his hands through his hair, “It’s never done that before.”
It hadn’t done a lot of things before the team started hunting it. Like scaling a building on the first day they found it, that was new, and the bark that made Leo go unconscious when he got too close on the next day, that was new too. In retrospect, the odds of that particular wolf being able to summon portals were pretty high.
“But Piper found a weak spot, right?” asked Hazel.
Everyone looked at Piper, apparently Hazel had been the only one to see what she was lunging for.
“It’s got a bald spot under its front right arm,” she said, “I don’t know if it’s a weak spot… for all I know it just activates portals.”
“Or,” said Jason “It knew where you were going to strike and made the portal to get away.”
Her friends smiled at her. It felt great to see them again, always cheering her on and encouraging her, she had missed them.
“Where do you think we are?” croaked Frank.
Yikes, thought Piper. He was a mess. He had two black eyes several cuts on his face and hands. And that was only what Piper could see…
“I don’t know,” said Piper honestly, “there’s a Barnes and Noble near my house so maybe--”
“No.” Annabeth walked back into the room and looked up from her phone. “We’re not in Los Angeles, we’re not even in California”
“What?!” exclaimed Piper, “we left the -- we left the state?!”
“Where are we then?” asked Percy nervously.
“Please say no farther than Oregon,” said Leo. They had told Piper’s dad and Coach Hedge that they would be back tomorrow.
“We’re farther than Oregon,” said Annabeth grimly, “We’re in Boston”
They all sat in a stunned silence for a very long time.
“We changed time zones?” asked Leo, “What time is it?”
Piper looked at him. They had been in California one minute and Massachusetts the next. They were closer to Camp Half Blood than they were to her father’s house but were still a long way away from any sort of safe place and Leo Valdez was asking about the time.
“It’s two hours forward.” said Annabeth, obviously thrown by the question as well. “We left California at 4:30 therefor it’s 2:30--”
“Does it matter?!” Piper exclaimed.
“Well that means we have two more hours than we would’ve had to find somewhere to sleep.” said Hazel, always trying to be the optimist.
“If we weren’t in Boston we wouldn’t need those two hours,” said Jason, “I mean--
He faltered, Piper understood what he was trying to say. This team had gone around the world, literally, but for some reason they had never felt as though they were lost. The team always had a plan, and somewhere to sleep. And now they had been sucked to the other side of the country.
“Has anyone here even been to Boston before?” asked Frank in a hoarse whisper. Piper winced,
Percy let out a small laugh and said “Guys don’t worry, we’re fine”
They all turned to look at him. He had three rips down the front of his shirt from the monster’s claws and his hair was a mess but he leaned back against a bookshelf, hands behind his head, like he didn’t have a care in the world.
“How are you so calm?” Piper felt like she was about to fall apart. She had never felt this far from home before. Even in Greece and Rome, she had felt more secure.
Percy just smiled and turned to Annabeth.
“Have you called Magnus yet?”
“No, he doesn’t have a phone but I have both Sam and Alex’s numbers. One of them as got to have eyes on him”
“Um,” Leo chimed in, “Who’s Magnus?”
“Magnus it my cousin,” said Annabeth, “he lives here.”
Hazel let out a sigh of relief.
“Does he have a place we can stay?”
“Well, he’s got a mansion that he rents out to the homeless for free so, yeah, I think he can set us up.”
“Your cousin owns a mansion?” gawked Leo.
“Well, technically I own a mansion. The lease is in my name.”
Before they could digest that and Leo could make a joke about it, Annabeth's phone buzzed.
“Oh great, they're all together.”
“What does it say?” asked Jason.
“It’s Sam, she says ‘of course we’ll help. Magnus thrilled. Meet us at Make Way For Ducklings statues. Split up. Boston not safe for demigods right now. No more than three to a group. See you then’ and a smiley face with glasses.”
“She wants us to split up?” asked Jason.
“Well seven demigods together does draw some attention.” Annabeth reasoned.
“I know but…”
He trailed off again but Piper finished his thought.
“We’re all going to the same place anyway right? Why split up only to get back together?”
“It might be hours before Magnus can get us a room. Or they’re thinking about taking us somewhere else. I’m not sure, but if Magnus says that Boston isn’t safe right now then we shouldn’t attract too much attention until we need to.”
“But your cousin… Mangus?”
“Right Magnus, he wasn’t the one who sent the text right?” Jason shifted nervously, not wanting to fight but obviously concerned.
Percy jumped in, seeing where the conversation was headed.
“We’ve met Sam. She’s cool, and definitely on our side. And she knows the area way better than we do. I say we do what she says. Okay?”
He didn’t wait for an answer. Right away he jumped to his feet and walked toward the exit.
“Percy and I will go see Magnus.” said Annabeth, making plans as always, “When we know where we’re going we’ll send you all an iris message. You guys send us one if you’re in trouble.”
“Okay.” said Hazel, clearly trying to show Annabeth that we trusted her cousin, “Frank and I will walk down that street towards that park. Do you guys just want to walk in the other direction?”
The question was directed at Piper.
“Sure.” she said, matching Hazel's can-do attitude, “It’ll be fine”.
She added a little charm speak into that last bit trying to reassure everyone that separating was a good idea. It seemed to work, everyone in the room relaxed a bit.
“Great.” Annabeth silently thanked Piper as she turned to walk outside. “We’ll see you all later”
She and Percy left.
“Has anyone ever heard of Annabeth’s cousin in Boston before?” Jason asked once they left.
“Yeah,” said Piper, “right before we went into Athens to try and stop Gaea, she said how she had been wanting to reconnect with him and her uncle who lived here.”
That did not seem to reassure him of anything but he just shrugged and nodded.
They all walked outside and parted ways. Piper, Jason, and Leo going in one direction and Hazel and Frank going in another.
About one street in, Piper realized something: it was February in Boston. To be fair, it was February in Los Angeles too, but February in Boston is much colder than February in Los Angeles. Piper and her friends did not have on the proper clothes.
Jason and Leo were wearing jackets that kept out some of the cold. Piper, however, was only wearing a thin long sleeved shirt. It wasn’t long before they were all shaking from the negative degree weather.
“Let’s go into a store,” said Jason, “warm up.”
Both Piper and Leo nodded in agreement and looked around. There was a coffee shop nearby but it was closed for remodeling. Piper was considering walking into what looked like a yoga studio when something caught her eye.
The store across from the coffee shop had a familiar sign. She read it and laughed into the street.
“What?” said Leo through chattering teeth.
“Sorry, but we have to go in there.” Piper, gesturing to the store, “I have to be a good sister.”
“What?” asked Jason.
“I’ll explain inside.” she answered.
That seemed quite appropriate, given the temperature, so the three of them hobbled into the shop with the sign “Blitzen’s Best”.
Frank hurt everywhere. When Jason and Piper had first told them about the wolf he had thought, well that’s fine, I’ll just shoot it in the eyes. When that hadn’t worked he decided to turn into a large animal like an elephant. Then he learned that elephants were not fast enough to fight super wolves. It had destroyed him, giving him some nasty cuts on his back and his legs. Then he tried another wolf but he was much too small. The lion had worked better than anything else, but he still had gotten thrown into a lot of walls.
His left leg seared with pain at the knee and his head wouldn’t turn all the way to the right. It was freezing outside and his lungs screamed with every intake but his right hand was holding Hazel’s left so life was going great.
They walked into a small park. They could still hear the city around them but there were trees and bushes instead of buildings and cars. They sat on a bench and tried to stay warm.
“So,” said Hazel, “Apparently Annabeth owns a mansion?”
Frank laughed “Yeah, and to think bought her nachos yesterday.”
“I wonder why her uncle gave her the mansion and not her cousin. I mean, her cousin lives a lot closer right?”
“I don’t know,” said Frank, “Maybe they didn’t get along, her uncle and cousin. We’ll have to ask her.”
“Yeah, I just hope that--”
Hazel stopped and Frank knew why: a low growl had begun from behind a nearby bush. Before Frank could pray for a stray dog, a large, black wolf came onto the pathway. Its red eyes were slits and it was showing its black teeth in a large snarl.
Hazel drew her spatha and Frank took out his bow. He knew it wouldn’t work. The wolf was too fast for his arrows and it was too close to them.
Frank notched his arrow and Hazel got ready to strike. The wolf got down to pounce but before Frank could fire there was a loud BANG and the wolf stumbled back a few feet as the force of a bullet hit it in the side.
The wolf, Frank, and Hazel all turned to see where the bullet had come from. With their luck, it was probably just a mortal police officer.
But it wasn’t. A boy emerged from the trees. He looked about eighteen with dark hair and skin. He held a rifle and wore an old military jacket from… world war two? Frank wasn’t sure. He had grown up in Canada after all, he couldn't be expected to know the uniforms of every US military movement.
The boy walked towards the wolf, paying no attention to Frank or Hazel. He reloaded his gun, keeping his eyes on the beast as it growled at him.
“Hello, Garmr,” said the boy in a calm, steady voice.
The wolf growled at the name, licking its lips as if waiting to feast of the boy.
The boy shot again. Hitting the beast between the eyes.
Garmr growled and lunged. Frank wasn’t thinking, all he knew is that this kid was about to be wolf chow. So he did what might be the stupidest thing Frank had ever done. He transformed into the first animal he could think of and he launch himself in between the boy and the beast.
Unfortunately, the first animal Frank thought of was a bulldog. Not the best animal to fight a wolf the size of a horse.
Oh well, too late to turn back now. Frank sank is little teeth into the wolf’s leg and held on for dear life.
Either Bulldog teeth were a lot sharper than Frank thought they were, or the wolf was very confused by Frank’s suicidal attack. Garmr jumped up and started to run around, which, of course, shook Frank around until his eyes rolled around in the back of his head.
Another shot went off. Then Garmr seemed to get really angry. It shook off Frank, and sent him sailing into a bush. He changed back into human form just to see the wolf run off towards the subway. The boy with the old fashioned jacket lunged at it, swiping with his bayonet, but the wolf was too fast and in seconds it was gone.
“Frank?” Hazel ran to his side, “Are you hurt?”
“My pride? Yes. My head? Not bad.”
“You shouldn’t have intervened.”
It was the boy with the gun. He was still looking at where the wolf had disappeared.
Frank should have left it alone. He didn’t know this guy, for all Frank knew, he was dangerous, but he had been thrown into too many walls and bushes by that wolf to keep his mouth shut.
“You’re welcome,” he snapped at the boy.
He looked over at Frank. A spark of anger shined in his eyes, but mostly it was disappointment. And what looked like… was it grief?
“You were brave to try and save me, but you should leave the Garmr alone, you can not win against him.”
Frank wondered if the boy was in some kind of trance. His voice was monotoned and his movements stiff. He looked numb. But Frank thought it was more dread.
The boy had just turned to follow the wolf when a girl’s voice pierced the cold air.
“TJ!” screamed the girl.
The voice came from Frank’s left, along with the rustle of bushes.
“Thomas Jefferson Jr, if you’re still alive I’m gonna KILL YOU.”
The boy stopped but looked more disappointed than scared. Like a toddler being caught trying to do something he shouldn’t have.
He sighed and turned as a girl with red hair burst from the foliage.
She was terrifying. Red hair at shoulder length and two knives in her belt, her eyes showed nothing but anger.
“YOU!” she bellowed in rage, “YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THE LEVEL-HEADED ONE! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”
The boy didn’t flinch, which Frank found very impressive. The girl took two very sharp knives from her belt and had began to wave them around in her anger.
“ME AND HALF BORN HAVE BEEN ALL OVER BOSTON TRYING TO FIND YOU BEFORE YOU GOT YOURSELF KILLED. EVEN HALF BORN THINKS YOU’RE BEING SUICIDAL! THE MAN WHO GOES INTO BATTLE WITHOUT. A. SHIRT.”
Frank considered turning into a mouse and hiding in the bush he was tangled in. Hazel sat next to him but had stopped trying dig him out and stared at the girl with red hair. Her mouth was slightly open.
“WE SENT A RAVEN TO ALEX AND MAGNUS! DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?! YOU ARE BEING MORE SUICIDAL AND STUPID THAN BEANTOWN!”
There was a deafening pause. Frank, Hazel, and the terrifying girl look at the boy whose name was apparently Thomas Jefferson Jr.
To Frank’s surprise, instead of cowering or apologizing, (which Frank was ready to do and he wasn’t even the one being screamed at), Thomas Jefferson threw back his head and laughed.
The laughing lasted a terrifyingly long time. The boy would calm down, look at the girl’s face, and started up again.
“Oh calm down Mallory,” chuckled Thomas Jefferson.
“Do NOT tell me to calm down,” snapped Mallory.
“You’re scaring them.” Thomas Jefferson gestured to Hazel and Frank.
The girl turned and jumped. All the color drained from her face. She had obviously not noticed them during her rant.
“You know Magnus? Magnus Chase?” Hazel stayed on her knees but she started to help Frank out of his thorny prison again. Frank was impressed. In his state, he had not realized that the Magnus the girl had screamed about could be Annabeth’s cousin.
“You know Magnus?” Thomas Jefferson stepped forward and offered Frank a hand.
Frank took it and got yanked out of the bush. Thomas Jefferson patted Frank on the back and said “Thank you again for jumping in, I apologize for the injuries.”
“Trust me, these aren’t just from today,” Frank responded.
“We know Magnus’s cousin… Annabeth?” Hazel’s eyes jumped back and forth between the boy and girl before her. Frank knew what she was thinking. They had never heard of Magnus before that afternoon. If these people were friends with the right Magnus Chase, there was no reason to believe they had heard of Annabeth.
But to Frank’s astonishment, Thomas Jefferson nodded with recognition.
“So you are Greek?” he said, “Good, when you changed form I thought you might have been a child of Loki.”
“We’re Roman, actually,” said Frank.
He was stunned, not only had they heard of Annabeth but they knew she was the daughter of a Greek goddess.
“What’s the difference?” asked the girl, Mallory.
“More than you would think actually,” said Hazel, “you see--”
They might have stayed there in that park for a long time discussing the differences between Greek and Roman mythology, however a rustle from a nearby tree branch made them all draw weapons and face the noise.
A man stumbled through the foliage and looked up at the four of them and the weapons in their hands.
“Who are we fighting?” he asked through a large beard.
When he spoke, Frank realized that the man was really a boy. No older than Percy or Annabeth. He was very large and muscular and his hair and beard looked untamable.
“No one,” spat Mallory, putting down her knives. “Where have you been?”
“Well when I heard you screaming I figured TJ was fine so I waited outside the park for Magnus’s rely.” He paused and then continued with an afterthought. “I mean really woman; you’ve got one violent set of lungs.”
“What does the letter say?” Asked TJ before Mallory could cut the large boy’s head off.
“Oh, it says ‘Sam and Alex are both cursing TJ so I am assuming hunting down Garmr is a big no no. We are headed to Make Way for Ducklings to meet my cousin. Meet us there?”
“I thought it was dangerous for demigods to move around in groups larger than three,” asked Hazel.
The kid with the letter looked at Hazel in surprise as if just realizing she was there.
“Who--” he began.
“Friends, this is Half Born,” interjected TJ, “Half Born these are…”
TJ stopped obviously realizing that he hadn’t asked Frank and Hazel their names.
“I’m Hazel, this is Frank”
Half Born nodded, obviously satisfied, and explained, “Well, Hazel, technically it isn’t safe to travel in large groups right now but seeing that Garmr tracked you down in a group of two, probably means that Boston is getting worse when it comes to monsters. So that means it really doesn’t matter how big the group is because odds are we’re going to get attacked anyway.”
Frank didn’t like that logic but Half Born looked absolutely giddy at the thought of getting attacked in the streets of Boston.
Frank turned to Hazel and he could tell they were thinking the same thing. These people were crazy but they are offering to take them to Annabeth and Percy and at that moment they needed some questions answered by Annabeth and Percy.
“Alright,” said Frank, not sure how else to answer.
“Wonderful!” exclaimed TJ. “You four can go see Magnus, Sam, and Alex while I go hunt down Garmr and poke out one of his eyes.”
“No.” Mallory marched up to TJ and put a knife to his chin. “You are coming with us so we can decide what to do with you.”
And just like that the five of them left the park and walked onto to streets of Boston.
“So why does walking into a clothes shop make you a good sister?” asked Leo as the three of them roamed the racks of “Blitzen’s Best”.
“You guys know that wall at the back of the Aphrodite cabin?” responded Piper.
Leo and Jason looked at each other. They obviously didn’t know.
“Well,” said Piper as she shifted through a rack of shirts, “It’s filled with everything my brothers and sisters are obsessed with. It changes a lot, but it’s always got posters of movies and actors as well as logos for shops and businesses.”
“Umm. okay.” Leo looked at a rack full of jackets and said, “and this place is on the wall of glory?”
Piper smiled. She had missed Leo. He had come to the reunion without Calypso. She claimed to have too much school work but Piper thought it was an excuse to let the seven have some time alone. Piper was grateful. It had been a while since she had been able to joke around with Leo like old times.
“Not only is it there, but it’s been there since Christmas break. It’s broken the record for amount of time spent on the wall and it’s in the middle of the ‘wall of glory’ which mean it’s the most obsessed over. And there’s only one shop in existence and it’s in Boston so no one has anything from the store.”
“So…what? You’re just gonna buy an outfit for each of your siblings?” Jason looked really confused. Piper hardly ever let her Aphrodite shine through but today was an exception. She really loved the clothes in the shop just as much as her siblings.
“No. I’m going to buy one outfit for myself and two others. One for the guys and one for the girls. Communal wear.”
“Okay, wait. I can understand the obsession wall, to an extent, but communal wear?”
Leo looked at her like she had five heads. Piper laughed. He could make a flying warship in six months but he couldn’t understand the Aphrodite cabin.
“Yeah,” she said grinning, “if you buy the right size, every girl in the Aphrodite cabin can fit into the same outfit and the same with the boys.”
“You're kidding!” exclaimed Jason.
“No we do it all the time.”
Jason looked at a rack of shirts like it scared him. Piper just laughed and moved through the shop.
She picked out a great jacket for herself. She had to admit that it was beautifully made. Red on the outside and black on the inside. The sleeves were the perfect length and the pockets were large but not bulky. It had a design on the collar and sleeve cuffs, some type of ancient symbols.
Once she had picked three outfits, one for her, two for her siblings, she moved towards the back of the store to pay. She found Jason awkwardly fingering a pair of pants.
“Hey,” he whispered when she walked up to him, “do you know what they're saying?”
She looked at the back of the store. Two men sat at the counter. The man behind the register was obviously Blitzen himself. He had dark skin and wore a maroon jacket and a matching vest. His dark hair was perfectly combed back on his head. He looked about 5’5’’. The other man sat across from him next to the pay station. He could not have been more different. He was tall and and pale. His hair was so blond it looked white and he wore all black, except for a pink and green striped scarf. As if to make the sight even stranger, both men were signing widely to each other in what Piper recognized as ASL, American sign language.
Piper sighed and looked at Jason.
“No.” She rolled her eyes at him.
Piper and Jason’s high school required kids to take one of five languages. Jason was taking Advanced Latin because he was fluent. Piper was fluent in French; it was an Aphrodite thing that she discovered on her first quest. But she soon realized that, even though she could speak French, she couldn’t write or read it. That meant she would need to go into a beginner's class for a language she could already speak or she had to chose another language. She considered Spanish but when she told Leo he got way too excited. He rambled on about how he could help her study over Iris message and how they would be able to talk in a language none of their friends would know. That meant he expected Piper to actually learn, which she did not sign up for. There was also Chinese but Piper found it scary and confusing so the only option left was sign language. The class was okay. The teacher was nice. But Jason thought she knew more than she did. He would always ask her how to sign random words. It was sweet… for the most part.
Piper watched the two men. They were going faster than she had thought possible to sign. That wasn’t surprising, Piper was in her first year of the language, but there was something else in the signing that she wasn’t familiar with. All of the gestures were sharp and abrupt. The men were having a silent argument.
Piper stepped forward, then stopped. Should she interrupt or take another lap around the store? Before she could make a decision the man behind the register held up his hands and waved at the other man to get his attention. He pointed at Piper, the universal sign for “pause the argument, I have a customer.”
“Hi, did you find everything alright?” said the man behind the counter.
Piper started slightly. She had just assumed that the man in the suit, Blitzen, was the one who was deaf, and the other man was there to be his translator.
“Yes, thank you.” She walked up to the counter and placed the clothes next to the register.
The man in black sighed and leaned back in his chair. He made a single sign to Blitzen and then crossed his arms defiantly
Piper chuckled under her breath. That one she knew.
“You know ASL?” asked Blitzen as he scanned her items.
“Barely,” she felt herself go red. She didn’t want them to think she was looking in on their fight.
“Basically just the alphabet, some verbs, and the term --” she signed ‘I am a beginner’ in sloppy ASL.
“And the swears.” Blitzen finished for her.
“Um… yes, well my teacher told the class we couldn’t speak unless it was in sign language, or to ask her a question, so a kid came in the next day and taught the class a bunch of swears. It’s a running joke between the class and the teacher.” Piper hesitated and then added, “I didn’t mean to intrude.”
“No intrusion,” Blitzen assured her, “and learning the swears is half the fun.”
Piper paid and turned to leave. She and Jason found Leo and were about to head out when Piper looked back at the two men. They had gone back to arguing. Piper jumped at the fact she knew what the man in black was signing. He was using letters to spell out a name: J-U-N-I-O-R.
Piper also caught a verb that she had just learned. Pointing your middle and index finger to you eyes and then out. The universal sign for “I’m watching you” but it meant to look in ASL.
Piper made herself look away. It was a fight; she didn’t want to get involved. Piper marched out of the shop followed by Jason and Leo. Together they trudged back out into the cold.
Percy and Annabeth took a few wrong turns. Sure, Percy knew about Boston’s Public Garden, and the Make Way for Ducklings statues were good landmarks, but that didn’t mean he knew the way.
After what felt like hours in the negative weather and directions from a grumpy pedestrian, they were able to pinpoint the Garden. Then, all it took was a few minutes of aimless wandering to find the statues.
“Annabeth!” Magnus waved his arms around as though he was calling to her in the middle of a big crowd. The garden was deserted; they were the only ones crazy enough to be out in the freezing temperature.
Annabeth hugged her cousin. Alex and Samirah greeted Percy with cheerful waves and Alex informed him that his pronouns were him/his.
“So,” Alex ventured, “when did you guys get in? All of a sudden we get a text saying that you’re in Boston.”
“Oh.” Percy looked at his watch sarcastically, “about twenty minutes ago. We fell through the ceiling of a Barnes and Noble.”
“On purpose?” asked Magnus.
“Me, Percy, and our friends were having a reunion over February break at Piper’s house in Los Angeles --”
“California?” asked Magnus.
“No, idiot, Los Angeles, Vermont.” Alex rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to Annabeth, gesturing for her to continue.
“Well, we decided to hunt down this wolf that had been giving Jason and Piper a lot of trouble at school but three days into the hunt it proved very hard to kill and, long story short, the wolf somehow teleported us across the country.”
“Wait, a wolf?” asked Sam, “was it big and black? Red eyes? Black teeth?”
“Wow, wait you know it?” Percy didn’t like that. He had met a monster that dabbled in two mythologies before. He had learned that mixing worlds wasn’t a good thing. He had fought a common enemy with the Egyptians, he didn’t need one with the Norse.
Sam nodded grimly “It’s called Garmr, Hel’s guard dog. No wonder you guys had such a hard time killing it.”
“If it’s Norse, how come it was in Los Angeles? What was it doing so far from Boston?”
“I don’t know… Boston is the entrance to Midgard. Garmr must have traveled from Boston to Los Angeles just to give your friends some trouble in school. It hasn’t left Helium for hundreds of years as far as I know.”
“Yeah,” Alex interjected, “no wonder TJ’s gone berserk.”
“What?” Percy had never met TJ but he was fairly certain that Half Born was the berserker.
“Yeah, apparently he left Valhalla around the same time you told us you were here. Went out to fight it alone.” Magnus looked just as confused as Percy and Annabeth. “It’s weird. He’s usually level headed, unless you challenge him to something.”
Sam rolled her eyes, “Magnus you’re so stupid.”
“What?” Magnus stared at Sam and Alex as though trying to understand what he was missing. Percy could relate, he got a lot of “you’re so stupid” eye rolls from Annabeth when he didn’t understand something about Greek mythology.
“With Garmr out roaming the streets of Boston, splitting up might not have been the best idea after all,” said Alex.
“I agree, an attack from snow monsters would be better than getting attacked by Garmr without backup.” Sam looked down the street. “We told our friends to come here when we heard about Garmr. Do you guys want to do the same?”
“Snow monsters?” Percy also looked down the street. He half expected a yeti to wander out of a nearby Dunkin Donuts.
“Yeah they’ve been attacking groups larger than three for a month now. It’s been really annoying,” explained Magnus.
Annabeth took a small pouch out of her pocket. “We can send our friends an iris message and tell them to come here. We just have to make a rainbow.”
“Should I ask?” Alex questioned.
“I wouldn’t, we just need to set up a prism and shine a flashlight through it.” Percy riffled through his backpack taking out a flashlight.
Before he could locate the prism, they heard voices coming up to them.
Annabeth reached for her knife.
“It’s okay,” assured Magnus, “that’s Half Born.”
The five of them watched the approaching figures. As they got closer, Percy realized that he knew two of them.
“Frank, Hazel! What are you two doing here? We were just about to send you an iris message.”
“We got attacked by Mr. wolf again.” Frank looked like he had been thrown against another wall. “And met these three.”
Frank sounded as though he wasn’t sure which encounter was worse.
Percy had only heard short descriptions of Magnus’s friends from Hotel Valhalla but he had no trouble putting their names to their faces. Mallory with her red hair and angry expression, TJ with his civil war jacket and his musket, and Half Born with his crazy beard and battle ax.
“What happened?” Magnus was looking at Frank and all of his injuries.
“Not much,” said TJ, oblivious that the question was directed at Frank, “I found Garmr as it was about to attack these two. I managed to shoot it three times and Frank here changed form and attacked the beast. It got away, and Mallory intercepted me before I could follow it.”
“You fought it again?” Annabeth asked Frank.
“Not really, I mean,” Frank’s face glowed red and he looked at one of the baby ducklings, “I didn’t change into the best animal.”
“No! The bulldog did a marvelous job of slowing down Garmr.” TJ smiled at Frank as though with no sarcasm implied. Either he was trying to spare Frank’s feelings or he actually thought turning into a bulldog was a good idea.
Percy, however, picked a third option.
“You changed into a bulldog?” Percy laughed and smiled at his friend, “Well, I guess it’s better than the giant goldfish.”
Annabeth stepped on his foot, which hurt, but Frank made a small smile and seemed to relax a little.
“So, you’re the shape-shifter.” Alex sized up Frank as though he was debating who would win in a fight. The sight looked ridiculous, Frank was at least twice Alex’s size, but Percy had heard stories of what Alex could do with his garrote.
Magnus put a hand on Alex’s shoulder.
“Don’t mind Alex, he’s just jealous to learn that other mythologies have shape-shifters too.”
“Zip it Maggie,” growled Alex.
Magnus rolled his eyes and smiled. He stepped towards Frank.
“May I?” He pointed to Frank’s injuries.
“May you what?”
“You, Alex, and Sam can shape-shift, Percy can control water, Mallory can make men twice her size cower in fear. I have special talents too man.”
Frank didn’t seem to find this reassuring but Annabeth nodded encouragement so he allowed Magnus to step forward and place a hand on Frank’s shoulder. Instantly Franks injuries started to heal. His black eyes faded and the cuts and his face disappeared.
Frank let out a sigh of relief. He looked down at his no longer scared hands with raised eyebrows.
“My dad’s the Norse god of peace and fertility. I can will things to heal and sometimes I can make people’s weapons fly out of their hands. It’s not such a bad gift, as godly powers go.”
“So Norse mythology.” Hazel looked around the group. “There’s Norse mythology now?”
“Yeah, sorry. I was going to tell you all about --” Annabeth gestured vaguely and continued “but I didn’t find a good time to really explain it.”
“Percy and Annabeth helped us prepare for a quest last summer. We had to sail and needed a sea expert,” explained Sam.
“Not that the sailing training helped,” Alex muttered, “Magnus didn’t know that the boat could row itself.”
Percy laughed “Oh well, it was still fun trying to teach you how to dive only to have you break every bone in your body.”
Magnus turned red.
“Yeah that hurt.”
“We should track down Piper, Jason, and Leo,” said Annabeth, “then we can get a plan.”
“And we can talk about why you suddenly have become more suicidal than usual,” added Magnus looking at TJ.
Percy rummaged around inside his backpack.
“I can’t find the stupid prism,” he huffed, “Hazel, do you have yours?”
“We won’t need it,” said Hazel.
“Why not?” Percy looked up from his backpack and gave Hazel a questioning look.
“Because I’m pretty sure I know where they are.” Hazel pointed up to the sky behind Percy.
Everyone turned to see the giant storm that had started to form just two blocks away.
“Snow monsters?” asked Annabeth.
“Snow monsters.” Sam confirmed.
And without a word, the ten of them turned and ran into the oncoming storm.
When Magnus became an Einherji he was told he had gotten an upgrade. He was supposed to have superhuman strength and speed. After all, he had died an honorable death, he deserved it.
Because of this, he found it very unfair that he was the one falling behind.
They had been running for two blocks and no one else looked tired. Sure, Magnus had just healed the shape-shifter, Frank. That took a lot of effort, the big guy had been hurt more than he let on, but was that really enough to make him fall behind?
He was barely keeping up. His breath was heavy and he had a stitch in his side. Alex looked back at him and smirked. He signed need a nap? With a sarcastic eye roll.
Great, thought Magnus, I have been going out with Alex, officially, for a total of three hours and I am already making a fool of myself.
It surprised Magnus that he was thinking of that. He had made a fool of himself in front of Alex hundreds of times before he had started dating him. This shouldn’t have felt any different.
Magnus took a deep breath and charged forward. They all sprinted around a corner and slipped on the thick layer of ice that covered the road.
It was like a terrifying, cold, slip and slide. Magnus got a knee in the stomach. He tried to grab the sidewalk, trying to slow down but everything was too slippery. The street was a small hill and made them accelerate in one big screaming pig pile.
Magnus heard Mallory scream in defiance from the front of the pack. He was able to lift his head high enough to see her. She took out her knives and shoved them down into the ice.
Immediately she slowed down. Being in the front of the group, everyone slammed into her. Magnus was afraid she would lose her grip on the knives. Then he remembered that she was Mallory Keen.
Mallory gritted her teeth and shoved the knives farther into the ice. Halfway through the street, the group slowed to a stop.
Magnus stumbled to his feet. With no shortage of slipping he hobbled over to Mallory. She still held her Knives with white knuckles and her jaw was clenched.
He knelt next to her and, hoping that she wouldn’t cut off his head as a reflex, placed his hands on her shoulders. Just as he expected, both her shoulders were dislocated from their sockets. He gently pried her hands from the knife handles. She swore a lot, but he eventually put her shoulders back where they were supposed to be with a little Frey magic.
“Hey, people.” Alex was climbing out of a shop that was frozen-over and windows were smashed. Magnus’s heart jumped into his throat. He was climbing out of Blitzen’s Best. Magnus was so focused on being the healer that he hadn’t noticed what street they were on.
“Are they in there? Are they alright?”
Then Magnus, being the heroic friend he was, took a step forward and promptly tripped.
“Smooth.” Alex gracefully hopped down onto the street. “And to answer your question: no they aren’t in there.”
Suddenly, a large explosion came from the next street down. Ice and snow whirled around the corner. There was a scream that Magnus couldn’t quite identify.
“Jason,” whispered Percy.
Everyone stood and tried to make their way towards the battle. Before they reached the corner another explosion shook the street and a figure was thrown into a nearby building. Everyone stood for a moment looking to see if the figure was a friend or a snow monster. Magnus was the first to identify it.
“Hearth!” he screamed. Then he swore. One day he wouldn’t yell to his deaf friend to get his attention.
Magnus hobbled forward, followed by Alex.
He kneeled in front of his elf friend. His lips were blue and he was shaking from the cold but he seemed fine otherwise.
“What happened? Where’s Blitzen?” Magnus signed.
“Three kids came in store. Attacked after they left. Tried to help.”
Hearth pointed towards the street he was just thrown from. Their friends were way ahead of them. The big kid, Frank, had transformed into a polar bear and ran ahead of the pack.
Magnus, Alex, and Hearth stood and slid around the corner.
What they saw was one big mess. Half of the buildings had been blown to the ground. Others were locked in large blocks of ice. Frank was back in human form and was standing with the others. Their eight friends were outnumbered four to one. That was fine, Magnus had seen his friends from floor nineteen face worse odds, however no one dared attack. The snow monsters had taken a human form, and at their feet they held three figures at icicle point.
On the far left, Magnus saw his dwarfish friend Blitzen. He was forced on his knees in front of one of the snow monsters. It held his hair to keep his head up and pointed an icicle knife to his throat. His beard was covered in frost but other than that, he looked unphased by the ice and snow. Next to him, was a boy that was being held in the same position. He had blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. His lips were blue and there were tear streaks on his face. The last figure was a scrawny boy with dark curly hair and a tool belt. He was unconscious, lying on the ground with blue lips and frost designs crawling up his face and neck.
Magnus bit his lip, the last kid’s lips and the tip of his nose was turning slightly black, as were the tips of his fingers. If he didn’t get help soon he would get frostbite
One of the snow monsters stepped forward. In his human form he looked around Magnus’s age, but Magnus wasn’t fooled. He had seen these things change into pure wind and snow, and cause problems for regular mortals and the homeless just because it amused them. He did not like these guys.
“Put your weapons on the ground,” said the teenager.
“You must be Dylan,” spat Percy, lifting up his sword, Riptide. “I thought you promised Jason not to bother us a third time?”
Magnus looked at him. He knew this guy?
Dylan smiled, “Maybe I wasn’t clear. Put down your weapons, or the dwarf and the son of Jupiter get an icicle in the throat.”
The snow spirits holding Blitzen and the blonde boy smiled and pushed the sharp icicles farther into their skin. Any more and they would draw blood.
Magnus watched as three knives, two axes, two swords, a bow and quiver, a garrote, and a civil war gun got thrown to the icy ground. Magnus resisted the urge to reach up towards the chain around his neck. He had seen Jack, his magical sword, take on more guys than this, but he was afraid they would kill Blitzen and the other two, Jason and Leo, before Jack could stop them.
“Where’s Piper?” Annabeth’s face was murderous. Her hands balled into fists as though waiting to clobber the ice spirit.
Dylan looked sarcastically disappointed. “Oh, I’m afraid the poor girl caught an icicle in the back, a pity really, Khione and her idiot brothers wanted to kill her personally. But they will have to live with the disappointment.”
Magnus looked at his cousin. She looked like she had just been slapped. Magnus had never met Piper, but he knew that she was important to Annabeth and her friends. Percy looked broken. Magnus had always seen Percy as upbeat and fun. The kid always knew how to crack a smile and stay positive. Now he looked as though he had lived too long. Like an old man who had seen too much death. The girl Hazel was crying and clutching her stomach. Frank had his arm around her, a blank expression on his face.
Magnus understood why the boy with the blonde hair had been crying. He must be Jason, Piper’s boyfriend.
Magnus couldn’t let this murderer get what he wanted. He slowly reached up to let Jack out of pendant form.
Before he could, however, Blitzen caught his eye.
“Not yet,” he signed, trying not to move his head because the icicle dagger.
“Why?” Magnus signed back.
“No ASL,” snapped Dylan, having seen Magnus signing, “If another word is signed I’ll kill the Dwarf first.”
Manus found that pretty harsh since ASL was the only way for Hearth to communicate, but he shoved his hands into his pockets and tried to look apologetic.
“And, you. Elf. Take your hand out of that bag of runes and put it on the floor.”
Magnus looked at Hearthstone. It looked like Hearth had also gotten away with keeping his weapon and was about to make a move.
He unlatched the pouch from his belt and placed it at his feet. He looked murderous. Magnus had seen Hearthstone like this before, usually when Blitzen was in danger. Magnus almost felt sorry for Dylan once Hearth got his ruins back. Almost.
“Khione is coming here?” Annabeth glanced nervously at the scrawny boy on the floor. Magnus winced, this kid needed help. The skin around his eyes were starting to turn black and his cheeks looked like ice. Magnus wasn’t sure if the poor guy was even breathing.
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that.” Dylan gestured to the frozen kid, “Leo Valdez’s services will be required for the next few weeks, so his death won’t be immediate.”
Magnus was confused, his services will be required? What services? Who was Khione and why did Annabeth look more concerned about Leo than Jason?
All Magnus knew was that they needed to leave before this girl Khione and her brothers arrived. And they couldn’t leave until Magnus used Jack to kill these storm spirits. But Blitzen had told him to wait before using Jack. Wait for what? All he knew was that he needed to buy himself some time until whatever he was waiting for happened.
Alex beat him to it. Magnus had forgotten that Alex could also read sign language and he was probably having the same thought process Magnus was. But faster, of course, because he was Alex.
Alex took two very large steps forward. “So, you’re obviously from Greek or Roman mythology… or both, whatever. So, if you don’t care if I ask, would you mind getting your frozen ass out of Norse territory before I rip your head off?”
Magnus couldn’t help but smile. Sorry boys, that green and pink ball of fire was taken.
Dylan took a step back, which made Alex snicker. But he then straightened up and said:
“You must be Alex.”
Alex shifted and lifted his chin as though expecting Dylan to bow.
“Your mother has told me a lot about you.”
Alex faltered. Magnus couldn’t blame him; his mother was Loki. The group had gone to great lengths to lock him up last summer.
Sam squeaked as though she was about to turn into a mouse. Half Born growled and TJ coughed once as though he was choking on something. Mallory nearly fell and Blitzen jump so violently he almost impaled himself with the icicle pointed at his throat. Even Hearth raised his eyebrows in surprise, which was the equivalent of a dramatic gasp.
Alex turned brick red and opened his mouth to say something.
Before he could, however, Dylan exploded. Like, literally exploded into a bunch of yellow dust.
Magnus didn’t wait to see why; this was obviously what he was supposed to be waiting for. He yanked the pendant from its chain and it extended into a sword.
“Kill the storm spirits!” Magnus hollered at the top of his lungs and he threw Jack as hard as he could.
“OKAY!” said Jack like the carefree sword he was.
Jack whizzed through the ranks of monsters, each one exploding into yellow dust. They were so busy looking to see what had killed Dylan that they were caught off guard.
Everyone else seemed too stunned to do anything so Magnus leapt into action. He grabbed a sword that landed close to his feet. It was incredibly long and gold. Then he ran towards the two monsters holding Jason and Blitzen.
The one holding Blitzen threw him to the ground at Magnus’s feet. Magnus, being the graceful creature he was, tripped over his friend and nearly impaled himself. He regained stable footing and swung the sword through the two spirits.
After he was free, Jason launched himself backwards towards yet another golden sword. He then stood, sword in hand, and went into battle. Magnus stabbed a monster here and there, mostly trying to stay alive. Jack flew through the ranks, singing “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” like he had been doing ever since December.
They still might have been overrun, there were more storm spirits then Magnus had first thought. Fortunately, Magnus wasn’t the only one waiting for the right moment.
Hearthstone grabbed the pouch at his feet and immediately threw the rune ᚠ.
Magnus recognized it as the rune Fehu, of his father, Frey. It was also the rune of warmth and fertility.
Magnus had never seen it used in combat before. His father was more about summer and happiness, but he instantly saw why Hearthstone chose it.
When the ruin disappeared beams of light and warmth erupted from the spot. It targeted each snow spirit and made them stumble and fall, destroying the ones closest to it. It kept the spirits too tired to change into wind and fly away. In a matter of seconds, all of the spirits had been turned into yellow dust.
“Piper!” shouted Jason. He ran up to a girl that Magnus had not seen before. She had dark hair braided back and wore leggings and a red jacket.
“How are you alive?” Annabeth stared at Piper with wide eyes.
“I don’t know…” Piper looked shaken. Her lips were blue and eyes were wide. Magnus was curious, but he figured there were more pressing matters.
He dropped the golden sword and walked over to the frozen Leo Valdez.
“Hey, Señor!” Jack floated over to Magnus as he knelt next to Leo. “How did I do?”
“You did great Jack, thanks.” Magnus looked up at his faithful sword, he had tracked down the god of poetry Bragi last December and begged him to write a poem about Jack’s greatness. Bragi was, in fact, perfectly happy to do so after Magnus and Alex helped him out with a small problem (some flesh eating rodents were digging holes in his garden) and gave the poem to Jack for Christmas. Ever since Jack had become very cheery about fighting for him.
Magnus rolled Leo onto his back and put a hand to his chest.
He whistled in astonishment. This kid was really messed up.
“Whistle? Why the whistle?”
It was Percy. He and Annabeth knelt on Leo’s other side. Everyone had gathered around, although Magnus’s friends from floor nineteen stayed back a bit along with Blitzen and Hearth who were now having a rapid conversation about who was more stupid during their fights with Dylan and his snow monster friends.
Alex knelt next to Magnus, which made him happy, and Sam stood behind Annabeth.
“They gave him induced Hypothermia.”
“What?” said Frank, “That’s bad right?”
“Well it’s not good, he won’t die from it, but he isn’t breathing and his heart isn’t beating, at least not at a good speed.”
“What?!” exclaimed Piper, “Then how will he not die from it?”
“It’s like those stories you hear about hikers that fell into frozen rivers and were able to survive for days, just frozen in ice. He might get brain damage or lose a foot to frostbite if he stays like this too long, and if we wake him up the wrong way it could kill him, but for now, he’s fine.”
Alex hit him on the back of the head, “Well, Mr. Sunshine, can you wake him up properly?”
Magnus looked at the six terrified faces in front of him. He was so impressed by the comatose state he hadn’t remember to use his bedside manner.
“Yeah, I bet I can but --”
“But?” asked Alex.
“But it would take a lot of effort, and… if it were you, you would probably hit me afterwards.”
“What?” asked Jason. He looked pale and scared. Him and Leo were obviously close friends.
“I can heal people. It’s a gift I got from my dad, but for serious injuries like this it takes more effort. Usually I have to put some sort of warm or happy memory behind it, and in return I get some backlash. Some of their bad memories. Alex doesn’t like it when I do that, so I like to be able to ask before I try it.”
“Is there any other way to wake him up?” asked Annabeth.
“Not that I know of,” he said.
“Then do it.”
Magnus didn’t hesitate. He put both hands on Leo’s chest and closed his eyes.
Wow, this kid was a mess. Magnus almost took his hands away because of the painful cold that coursed through his body.
He took a deep breath and found a warm memory. He settled on one when he was six with his mom. They had gone out for a picnic in the middle of August. The air was hot and sticky; they swam in a small river which was warm from the sun. Then they laid on the blanket and let the sun bake their skin.
Magnus channeled the memory into his healing. Immediately, he got back lash.
He saw Leo Valdez as a young boy, three or four, his hands ablaze, burning his way through a picnic table,
Then, later that day looking up at his mother.
“Leo, listen to me,” she was saying, “Fire is a tool, like anything else, but it’s more dangerous than most. You don’t know your limits. Please, promise me -- no more fire until you meet your father. Someday, mijo, you will meet him.”
The scene changed
Leo was eight years old, staring down a terrifying women made of dirt, her eyes closed as though she was asleep. He couldn’t let this woman hurt his mother. His hands caught fire as she moved closer to him. The fire raged forward, over the woman of dirt, but also over the walls and doors of his mother’s work place.
Later, Leo was told that there was a fire and his mother had died. Police officers told Leo the fire had started right where he was found. “What kind of child locks the doors of his mother’s workplace, knowing she is inside, and starts a fire?” they whispered behind his back.
None of Leo’s family members wanted to take him in. His Aunt Rosa called him a devil child and blamed the eight-year-old for the death of her sister. Magnus saw Leo move from foster home to foster home. Cracking jokes and playing games, but always running in the end.
Leo was fifteen and was put into Wilderness School. He made friends with Piper and Jason but then they started dating, and he felt like an intruder. He got taken to a place called Camp Half Blood, where he learned his dad was a god. But instead of his powers being normal, they were feared even by Half Bloods. He was still an outsider.
Leo went on a quest for the prophecy of seven. He stood with Hazel as the goddess of revenge told him that he would be the outsider, the seventh wheel, that he would not find a place among his brethren.
Magnus saw Leo start to believe it. Keeping to machines, never really talking to his friends. He felt Leo’s fear of being forgotten and his fear that one day the love of his life, Calypso, would wake up and discover that she did not want a scrawny son of Hephaestus as a boyfriend.
Leo gasped and his eyes opened. Magnus took his hands off his chest and tried to stand and back away, but collapsed. Alex caught him and eased him to the floor.
Magnus wanted to back up from Leo, he felt awkward. He had never seen so much when healing someone before. It could be the fact that he had never healed something so serious before, but Magnus didn’t think so. It was because Leo had never shared it before. Even Hearthstone, who had one of the worst pasts Magnus knew, had some peace with it. He had talked it out with Blitzen. Never before had Magnus met someone so confined and scared of their past. Except for maybe Alex. And now Magnus knew secrets that even his best friends and the love of his life didn’t know, he felt like an intruder.
“Leo!” Piper wrapped her arms around Leo’s neck in a big hug.
“W-wha? Uh -- hi. Piper?” Leo looked around the group. Everyone had gathered around. Leo’s eyes jumped from his friends to the people he didn’t know with the same confused expression. “What’s happening? What am I missing here?”
“Venti.” Jason patted his friend on the shoulder. “they put you in a, what was it? “Induced hypothermia” coma thing.”
“Magnus healed you,” Annabeth added.
She smiled at Magnus. Magnus did his best to smile back but he wanted melt through the drainage pipe and disappear.
Leo looked just as awkward when he first turned to look at Magnus, but hid it with a dorky grin.
“Thanks dude,” he said, “I’m allergic to induced hypothermia comas.”
Magnus smiled back, “No problem.”
Leo turned back to Jason “Since when do Venti freeze an entire block?”
“They were sent by Khione, she must have helped out, speaking of which, Dylan said she was on her way, we should get moving.”
Leo suddenly seemed wide awake.
“Khione? Coming here? Yeah, let’s go, I reeeaaally don’t want to see her again. I’ve reached my frozen quota for the day.”
“Go where, though?” asked Mallory. “The Chase Space is out. It’s no safer than the street when it comes to monsters right?”
“I don’t know, honestly.” Magnus tried to sit up but got dizzy and slumped back into Alex. “Randolph set up all kinds of traps for monsters, but I agree, we can’t go there. We’ve got a lot of kids staying there to keep warm. I don’t want them to get hurt in any crosshairs.”
Everyone looked around. It was getting dark. The sun was covered by a thick layer of clouds (which was good, otherwise Blitzen would have been petrified hours ago) but it meant they didn’t have much time to find shelter before it got really cold.
“Valhalla,” said Sam, breaking the silence. “It’s the only place we know will be safe.”
“Um… great idea,” said Blitzen. “Except Valhalla doesn’t usually rent out rooms to the living and I have no plan of dying an honorable death anytime soon.” Blitzen straightened out his maroon jacket as though thinking about how it would be ruined by bloodstains if he died.
“They’ll have to. It’s an emergency. Greek storm spirits in Boston, Norse wolves in Los Angeles, and that guy… Dylan, he mentioned Loki. We have to regroup and figure out what’s happening. I’ll talk with Helgi, it’s the only place we can go.” Sam stood and looked around at everyone to do the same.
Magnus’s friends looked at her with eyebrows raised. How was she going to convince the manager of Hotel Valhalla to let seven living Greek and Roman Half Bloods hang out in the afterlife of the honorable dead? He was barely okay with Blitz and Hearth and they were honorary guests because of their help in stopping Loki. Annabeth and her friends just looked at Sam with very confused expressions.
Before anyone could ask any questions, however, the wind picked up and it started to snow. Magnus could see storm clouds forming a few miles away.
Leo jumped to his feet and clapped his hands together.
“Okay! Valhalla it is! Let’s go before before Khione kills me or sends me to another deserted island.”
Seeing those storm clouds, no one was in the mood to argue. They all stood and Sam led the party down the street and away from the storm.
Alex tried to keep Magnus from falling but he was doing a bad job. Magnus’s legs had turned to jelly and his head was spinning.
Blitzen grabbed his other arm and together, him and Alex help Magnus stay upright.
“Okay?” Hearth signed, looking concerned, “long time.” He pointed to the spot where Magnus had healed Leo.
“How long?” He signed back. It felt like years, but usually his power only takes a few seconds.
“A few minutes at least.” Blitzen signed as he talked, which was proving difficult while holding up Magnus.
Magnus let that sink in, then he signed “saw more than usual.”
“How much?” Signed Hearth.
Magnus paused, “whole life,” he responded.
Hearthstone raised his eyebrows but then he brought his left hand down onto his right like he was cutting something. The sign for “alright”.
Magnus loved sign language because you are able to see what you wanted to see. Hearth could have been asking if Magnus was alright, or he could have been putting an end to the conversation with a final “alright then”. But Magnus liked to think he was assuring him that it was alright. That Leo wouldn’t be angry and that Magnus did what he had to do, telling him not to feel guilty.
And for that, Magnus was grateful.
Leo was more confused than he had felt in a while. He didn’t know where they were going or why being alive was against the rules. He didn’t know who any of these people were, although he did recognize the man in the red suit and the one with the pink and green scarf from the shop “Blitzen’s Best”. He wasn’t sure what had happened with the Venti: one minute everything was fine, the next he was, apparently, put into a coma. But what really threw him off was this Magnus and what had happened when he had healed him.
For one thing, the guy was glowing. Light was literally coming from him. Magnus told Annabeth that it happens when he heals people. Wonderful! With this guy you get a doctor and a flashlight all in one!
Then there was his talking sword. It floated along next to him, also glowing. As soon as they had started to hurry along the streets of Boston, Leo realized that it could speak.
“Hey Señor, you okay?” it asked. The rune designs on it’s blade glowed brighter when it spoke.
“Yeah Jack, I’m fine.”
“Okay, cause you look a little green.”
“I’m fine, Jack.”
“You summoned a lot of power just then.”
“Thanks for noticing.”
“You probably shouldn’t take me back yet; the effort would probably kill you.”
“Yeah that’s probably smart.”
“So, I’ll just float along okay?”
Then the sword started singing Christmas carols in February.
Leo mentally took “talking sword” off of his “things to build” list. It looked like it had already been done and the singing was a deal breaker.
Then, of course, there was the whole thing with him possibly seeing Leo’s entire life story while he healed him.
Leo hoped he was wrong, but it seemed too vivid to be a dream. Leo had relived all of his worst memories and thoughts. And by the way Magnus avoided his gaze, he had a feeling he had seen them as well.
It made Leo very uneasy. He would have seen him kill his mom and keep his gift of fire hidden from the world, including his siblings at Camp Half Blood. He would have seen things that Leo has not even told Piper and Jason; his two best friends. Like how his family members had refused to take him in and how Aunt Rosa had called him diabo. How he had secretly not wanted Piper and Jason to get together. How he was afraid Calypso would leave him…
Leo had always made sure to keep things to himself. And now a guy that Leo had never even heard of before today knew everything Leo had ever tried to hide.
Leo wanted to ask how much Magnus saw. He wanted to ask how the talking sword worked. He wanted to ask who all these people were. But instead he stuck to the simple but not-so-simple questions.
“So Piper, you look very alive for someone who I saw get hit in the back with an icicle.”
Piper smiled at him. “I don’t know, although it does feel like someone rammed a hammer into my back.”
Leo smiled and Jason put his arm around Piper.
“Is that jacket from Blitzen’s Best?”
Leo turned. It was one of the people he didn’t know. A kid with dark skin and a civil war jacket and gun.
“Uh, yeah it is. Why?” Piper fingered the red jacket she had bought from Blitzen’s Best. She had put it on when the temperature started to drop. Right before the Venti attacked.
“Ah, that’s why you told me to wait.” Magnus piped up from behind them. He was looking at the guy helping him stay standing, the one that was standing behind the register in the shop. “You knew she was alive.”
The man grunted and nodded, “Geez, kid you’re heavier than you look.”
“How did you know Piper was alive?” asked Leo. He addressed the question to Magnus.
“Anything in Blitzen’s shop that has that design on it, either on the fabric or on the tag, it means it’s made of chainmail de Blitzen.” Magnus smirked and looked at his friend.
“Ugh, let’s just call it chainmail, okay kid?”
“It’s made of chainmail?” Piper looked down at her jacket. “It feels like regular fabric.”
“That’s the point.” the guy in the civil war jacket smirked. “That’s not just regular chainmail. It’s almost indestructible. The only thing that has been know to cut through it was the second sharpest sword in existence. Odin himself wears that stuff.”
“Stop it TJ, I’m blushing,” huffed Blitzen but he looked very pleased with himself.
“How do you know that the second sharpest sword in existence can cut through?” asked Jason.
“Oh,” Blitzen’s face went sour and his hand reached towards his midsection, “yeah, that was unpleasant.”
Leo was starting to get annoyed. Sure, it was great that Piper now had almost unbeatable chainmail, and that he was no longer in a coma. And, yes, these people had saved their lives and seemed to have some interesting stories. But Leo didn’t know them and found it very unfair that they seemed to know him.
“Um, I’m sorry, but I was unconscious for the whole ‘getting to know each other’ portion of this life and death experience so--”
The kid in the civil war jacket, TJ, laughed. “I’m sorry, where are my manners? My name is Thomas Jefferson Jr, but you can call me TJ. Leading the pack with the green hijab and the battle ax is Samirah al-Abbas. They two next to her, bickering and holding hands, are Mallory Keen and Half Born Gunderson. Back here we have Magnus, you’ve met him, being supported by Alex Fierro in all green and pink as usual. The dwarf supporting Magnus’s other side is Blitzen of Blitzen’s Best. And, the elf on his other side is Hearthstone, also known as Hearth.
The ones within earshot smiled and waved, although Magnus wouldn’t quite meet his eyes, which Leo found annoying.
“Nice to meet you TJ. I’m Piper, this is Jason and Leo and I guess you’ve met everyone else.”
TJ smiled warmly. “I wouldn’t say I’ve met anyone yet. We’ll meet once we’re safe in Valhalla.”
Leo figured Valhalla was the Norse Camp Half Blood but the grimace that appeared of Blitzen’s face when he thought no one was looking made Leo very nervous.
Samirah al-Abbas came to a sudden stop. Leo looked around to see where they were. He wasn’t thrilled by what he saw.
Valhalla didn’t look very impressive: an eight story mansion built entirely from white and grey stone. But surrounding the building was a fifteen-foot-tall limestone wall with no entry point.
“The main entrance?” asked Magnus.
“Only Einherjar can get through the other entrances like the one in Forever 21. The only other way for the living to get in is from the world tree--”
“Scaling the fifteen-foot wall it is!” Blitzen put on a sarcastic smile and straightened his jacket.
Magnus was standing on his own now, swaying slightly but otherwise fine.
“But,” he started, “how are people other than Einherjar or Valkyrie supposed to scale this thing?”
“Easy!” said Annabeth, stepping forward slightly. “We have Jason, who can fly, and Frank, who can turn into a dragon, we’ve buddied up and flown over things before.”
“A dragon huh?” said Alex. “I wonder if I-- hold on.”
Alex closed his eyes and concentrated. Then he started to transform into a small dragon with pink and green scales.
Another shape-shifter, thought Leo, why not?
Dragon Alex looked rather pleased. Then he looked down at Blitzen and Hearthstone.
“No.” Blitzen backed away. “Alex, don’t you dare.”
Too late. Dragon Alex swept into the air, grabbing Blitzen and Hearthstone and sailing over the wall and out of sight.
“Okay then, see you over there.”
He stepped forward and took a running leap at the wall.
Leo thought it was the stupidest thing anyone had ever done. He watched, sure Magnus would slam into the wall three feet up.
Instead he sailed up the length of the wall and grabbed onto the tops with his finger tips.
After a bit of scrambling, he got onto the other side and slid out of sight.
TJ chuckled. “That’s what happens when the guy who could barely walk a few seconds ago tries to scale a wall.”
Him, Mallory Keen, and Half Born Gunderson snickered and, without any build up or running, simply bent their knees and hopped over the wall.
Frank turned into a dragon. Leo noticed he was bigger than the one Alex had turned into. He grabbed Percy and Annabeth in his claws and Hazel on his back, which left Leo, Piper, Jason, and Samirah al-Abbas alone in the street.
“You can fly?” asked Samirah.
She turned to Leo, “Do you mind if you go with him? I try to avoid contact with the other gender… nothing personal.”
It felt a bit personal to Leo, but he just nodded. Jason took his arm and Samirah took Piper’s.
Together the four of them went over the wall.
The courtyard was nice, but nothing to gape at. There was a set of wood and iron doors with a knocker in the shape of a wolf’s head.
Leo shuddered. He was starting to dislike wolves after this week.
There were also trees with leaves of gold. They sparked without sunlight and were very pretty to look at.
“Okay,” Samirah stepped forward. “Why doesn’t everyone wait out here while I go talk to Helgi. The storm won’t come into the courtyard so, honestly, the hotel lobby is probably the most dangerous place at the moment.”
Leo decided not to ask. He watched as the girl turned and walked into the building.
“So what is this place?” Frank looked nervous and Leo didn’t blame him. The mansion was starting to sound less and less like Camp Half Blood.
“This is Valhalla, good shape-shifter. Home of the honorable dead!” Half Born Gunderson looked very pleased and did not go on, as though that should make everything perfectly clear.
Magnus obviously knew they were going to need more.
“Annabeth probably hasn’t been able to tell you much about me yet, with you guys being busy fighting a giant wolf, so let me catch you up. My name’s Magnus, I’m a son of Frey, Norse god of summer and fertility and such. And a little over a year ago, on my sixteenth birthday, I died an honorable death in combat.”
No one spoke, so Leo decided to be sarcastic.
“Wow, you look pretty spry for a dead guy.”
Piper elbowed him, which he found unfair. But Magnus just smiled.
“Thanks. When you die an honorable death in Norse mythology you become an Einherji and get sent here. Valhalla. It was created by Odin. We train and stuff, so on Ragnarok, which is the prophesied end of the world, we can all charge into battle and die again. The only thing is, if you’re an Einherji you train by fighting and dying over and over again, so if you die inside of Valhalla, you just wake up a few hours later good as new. That means Valhalla is… well it’s pretty violent. Like, one minute you’re walking through the lobby and the next minute a stray spear impales you. Which is fine, if you’re already dead, but if not it’s not exactly the safest place.”
There was a very long silence after this explanation. Then Jason turned to face Annabeth, as though he was trying to avoid talking to Magnus.
“So, in that Barnes and Noble when you told us you had a cousin in Boston, you forgot to mention that, one: he’s a Half Blood from Norse mythology, and two: that he’s dead?”
Annabeth smiled sheepishly, but said nothing. Thomas Jefferson Jr and Half Born Gunderson seemed to find the whole thing very funny. They smiled and tried to hide their laughter as they watched the exchange.
“So, you’re all dead?” Hazel looked around at the group. As a daughter of Pluto and former deceased demigod, this was definitely her area of expertise.
“No no, me and Hearthstone are both very much alive and would prefer to stay that way,” said Blitzen. “And Sam is still alive, she’s a Valkyrie.” Blitzen paused and then explained. “That’s a person, usually a Half Blood, picked by Odin to serve him and collect souls as they die an honorable death, to bring them to Valhalla.”
“Sam brought Alex and me to Valhalla.” Magnus smiled as if it was cheerful but Leo got the terrifying image of Samirah al-Abbas in a cloak and holding a scythe like the grim reaper.
Samirah al-Abbas re-entered the courtyard. She was not alone. Behind her walked a man with a green suit and a very large beard. His eyes darted around the courtyard at Leo and his friends, as if expecting them to attack. Another man stood at the door. He also had a very big beard. He wore a doorman's uniform and had a large ax hanging from his belt. He had a warty face and large eyebrows.
Sam gave them a small thumbs up before turning her attention to the man behind her. The poor guy looked like he was about to faint. He held a clipboard and fumbled with the papers as though wanting to get several hundred paper cuts and bleed to death.
He cleared his throat. “Well, yes… um… So, you must be the -- uh Greeks and Romans.”
Leo felt sorry for the poor man. But he also found it very funny.
The man sighed, “Alright, my name is Helgi, I’m the manager of Hotel Valhalla and I would like to put on record that if it was up to me you would be sleeping on the street.”
“Oh.” Frank shuffled from foot to foot. “Is it not your decision?”
“Well it normally is, unfortunately I’ve been overruled on this particular topic.”
“What?” Magnus looked confused. “Who overruled you?”
Sam beamed, her eyes sparkling, “Our godly parents.”
Magnus’s eyes widened in fear.
“Well, not my godly parent, obviously, but yours. Frey and Freya and Frigg and Sif and Tyr. Even Odin! They all say that we should be allowed to stay at least one night.”
“Yes, yes, it’s all happiness and friendship until the gods start arguing with each other. Aphrodite and Freya, Hera and Frigg, and don’t even get me started on Thor and Ares. I nearly went deaf the last time they spoke to each other. What genius decided to sit the two loudest gods next to each other for an entire dinner?”
The man by the door stepped forward, “Um… you did sir.”
Helgi stroked his beard. “Oh yeah…”
“Okay then.” Sam stepped towards the door, gesturing for the group to follow her.
The man by the door intercepted them. “Let’s use this entrance.”
He walked the another wall of the courtyard and tapped a brick with what looked to Leo like a domino.
The wall immediately split open, revealing an elevator.
“Thanks Hunding.” Magnus gave Hunding a big smile which Hunding returned.
“That will go up to floor nineteen,” Hunding explained, “avoids the lobby.”
Leo looked at the building. It was only eight stories tall, but Leo had seen weirder things than a building that was bigger on the inside than on the outside.
The elevator seemed to grow to let all of them inside so they silently filed into the elevator and TJ pressed number nineteen.
Once the doors closed Magnus broke the silence, “That went well.”
He signed as he talked which made Leo uneasy. He was probably just signing so Hearthstone didn’t have to read everyone's lips, but Leo didn’t like how he could be saying anything and his friends wouldn’t know.
“I know! I thought Helgi was going to have a heart attack when he all those ravens appeared on his desk. But wow! All of those gods actually standing up for us.”
“Well, if Loki really is involved here then they didn’t have much of a choice did they?” Mallory leaned against the back of the elevator. Fiddling with one of her knives and not making eye contact. “Besides, they have to cut us some slack after the quest we went on last summer.”
“Oh, don’t be so humble.” Sam looked so happy, Leo was worried she was going to have a stroke. “Your mom stood up for us. So did Blitzen’s mom and Magnus’s dad and TJ’s dad. Even Sif!”
“Yeah, why Sif? We’ve only met her once and it wasn’t exactly a ‘getting to know you’ kind of affair.” Magnus looked at Sam, which gave Leo the impression that Sam was usually the one with the answers.
“That’s because of me.” Everyone in the elevator stared at Alex. He chuckled and said, “We started talking since that time when she gave me that wedding dress. She appears in my dreams sometimes. It’s some sort of weird friendship.”
“You are friends with the goddess of the earth?” Blitzen looked at Alex like he had four heads. Granted so was Leo, but that was because Alex had just mentioned being given a wedding dress. He wasn’t great with Norse culture… did men wear wedding dresses? Leo added that to the list of questions that he was too scared to ask.
The elevator door opened up into a giant hallway. Spears and shields made up the ceiling and a red velvet carpet covered the floor.
Magnus strolled out of the elevator and through the hall.
“My room then?” he stopped at a door labeled Magnus Chase and touched yet another domino to the lock. The door slid open.
Leo’s jaw dropped. He had stepped into the largest hotel room he had ever laid eyes on. In the center sat a large tree. Leo could see the stars between the branches, which shouldn’t have been possible because outside was too cloudy for stars. The bedroom was simple, just a bed and a curtain to shield out any light. Leo stared at it. That was the exact kind of bedroom he needed in order to sleep. No distractions or light to intrigue his ADHD brain. In fact, if there was a bunch of tools and half-finished projects laying on the floor, the room could easily be Leo’s afterlife dream house.
Why did he and Magnus have such similar needs? The thought unnerved Leo. He wanted to hate Magnus for seeing inside his head. It would be a lot harder to do so if they happened to be the same exact person.
Sam came into the room from the hallway. She held a bundle of blankets in her hand.
“We’ll just sleep on the grass.” she dropped the blankets at the base of the tree. “It’ll be easier that way.”
“Cool.” Percy grabbed a blue blanket and sat against the tree. “Slumber party.”
They all sat in the grass and waited for somebody to speak first.
“Why are you guys so sure Loki’s behind this?”
Annabeth looked at her cousin.
“When Alex was talking to that guy Dylan, he said something remember? He said ‘your mother’s told me a lot about you.’”
“So.” Alex smiled bitterly. “My dear old mum is Loki.”
There was a pause.
“Your mother is Loki?” asked Hazel.
“Yeah.” Alex didn’t explain. Hazel shuffled awkwardly and then continued.
“Isn’t -- isn’t Loki a… male god?”
“Sometimes. Sometime he turns into a female. Don’t assume the gender.”
Hazel looked like her brain was about to explode. The poor girl was from the thirties, Leo realized, she was more confused than the rest of them.
“Okay then.” Leo broke the tension. “So Loki is your mom but he/she is mostly in the form of a man right? Just asking to understand what I should be watching for.”
“Yes, he’s usually a man.” Sam fidgeted. “He is also my father. Me and Alex are brother and sister.”
Leo was starting to think Norse mythology was weirder than Greek mythology but then he remembered that he once stole a piece of metal from a guy using as a mirror by putting oil in his hair and writing “team Leo” on his shirt. Leo smiled a bit. His life was still weird enough to keep up with these guys.
“What about that whole thing with Leo’s services being required?” Piper looked at Leo.
“My what being what?”
Leo didn’t like being put into a coma, but he definitely didn’t like being talked about while in said coma.
“Dylan said something about how Khione wouldn’t kill you right away because your ‘services would be required’.”
Everyone looked at Leo as if expecting him to know what Dylan was talking about.
“Oh.” he murmured, “I didn’t know I was in such high demand.”
“What can you do that Loki might want?” asked Alex.
“I -- I don’t know… I can randomly burst into flames do you think his fireplace is broken?”
It was Alex’s turn to give Leo a questioning look, which Leo enjoyed.
“Can you craft? Are you an engineer?”
Everyone stared at Blitzen. Leo realized his mouth was open, he closed it.
“Yes. I’m a son of Hephaestus. How -- how did you know.”
Blitzen bit his lip and glanced at Hearthstone. Hearthstone glared at him and brought his right hand to his forehead with his fingers in a V.
“What? Why is Hearth calling you stupid?” Magnus’s eyes shot back and forth between his two friends.
Blitzen fidgeted, “It’s just a hunch kid, nothing to worry about.”
“Does it have something to do with Junior?”
Everyone turned to look at Piper. She turned brick red.
“I’m sorry,” she said in a small voice, “I caught a little bit of your argument in the shop. I know the alphabet…” she trailed off but Magnus jumped in.
“Junior? What does that idiot want?”
Hearthstone started making fast and large gestures that Leo couldn’t understand.
“Okay, okay wait.” Magnus sighed as he spoke, “What do you mean he’s missing?”
“We don’t know he’s missing. No one has seen him in Nidavellir for weeks, which isn’t totally unheard of but he also hasn’t been selling anything or making any sort of deals.”
“How do you know this?” Sam asked.
“Some dwarves buy stuff from the shop. They know about my -- ah -- history with Junior and told me.”
“I’m sorry but, who cares? Worst case scenario is he crawled into some hole and died. I mean, what was he, two hundred?”
“Magnus!” Annabeth opened her mouth, probably to scold her cousin but Blitzen spoke up before she could.
“Worst case? Kid, that’s the best case scenario.”
Even Magnus looked shocked at that comment.
“Okay… who is this Junior and why do we want him dead?” Leo chimed in.
“Junior is a cranky old dwarf from Nidavellir, where I’m from. Dwarves are skilled at crafting and engineering. And he’s said to be the best of the Dwarves. He never disappeared like this before.”
“And you want him dead?”
“Well, no. Want is a strong term… He’s really, really old, I was just saying that him dying would be better than him, you know, being used by Loki. If Loki is building something and needs master craftsmen, well, Junior’s the dwarf he would pick right?”
“Okay, what were you two arguing about?” asked Magnus.
“Hearth wanted to go and check it out. See if we could find him, or at least his body.”
“And you don’t want to?”
Blitzen sighed. “I’ve got no desire to go back to Nidavellir, no, but now…”
Blitzen trailed off. He stared wide eyed at something behind Leo. Leo turned, expecting to see a black wolf with glowing red eyes. Instead, he saw something much more terrifying.
“Coach Hedge!” Leo stared at the Iris message that had appeared behind him. In the middle of the mist was the image of a short and angry satyr.
The Norse demigods looked confused, which again, Leo enjoyed.
“Well! Look who's not dead! Do you know how hard it is to cover for you when Piper’s dad asks and try and find you? I must have sent you five Iris messages but you were always on the move! And wow! You must have a great reason, seeing as though you’re lounging under a tree with people I’ve never seen before!”
Leo winced, Coach Hedge yelled all the time, but the way to tell if he was mad or just yelling was whether or not he used sarcasm.
Annabeth raised her hands as though surrendering, “Okay… Everybody, this is Coach Hedge. He’s a satyr that works for Piper’s dad. Coach Hedge, this is Magnus, my cousin, and his friends.”
Coach Hedge growled. “And you couldn’t have sent me an Iris message telling me you were with your cousin? And since when do you have family in Los Angeles?”
“I don’t. The monster we were hunting opened up a portal and sent us to Boston.”
Coach Hedge’s face got slightly less red and his angry expression got changed to only a slightly annoyed one.
“Coach,” Leo interjected, “Why do you even care? We said we would be back tomorrow. Why did you send us so many Iris Messages?”
The Coach got a nervous look in his eyes. “Chiron sent out a ton of Iris Messages. He’s calling everyone in.”
No one spoke. When was the last time Chiron called people into camp? Not since Leo had went there. Camp Half Blood was always an optional place, somewhere to train and be safe, never mandatory.
“Who’s Chiron?” Alex broke the silence. His eyes jumped from person the person.
“Chiron’s the counselor of our camp. Camp Half Blood,” explained Annabeth.
“When was the last time he called everyone in?” asked Leo.
“The titan war, and even then it wasn’t completely mandatory.” Annabeth bit her lip, “Do you know why he’s doing it, Coach?”
Coach hedge nodded slightly, “Rumors. Apparently kids are getting attacked. More than usual, that is.”
“By Venti?” asked Jason.
“Venti?” the coach turned stiff. He had a bad relationship with Venti.
“Yeah, we had some trouble with them, they’re terrorizing Boston.”
“Ugh, no. Wolves apparently. Glowing blue eyes. Some kids thought they were with Lupa’s pack at first. I’ve heard rumors that one of the newer campers got hurt really bad, hospital bad.”
“Loki’s wolves,” growled Alex, “It’s just his style, sending his wolves to harass kids.”
Coach Hedge looked as though he wanted to ask but a door slammed shut a few rooms away from him.
“That’s Mr. Mclean, I’ve got to run. I’m still mad, stay out of trouble or else.”
“What did you tell him?” Piper asked.
“That you had to go to community service because something fell apart and that you would call.”
Piper looked at her hands, “Yeah, thanks Coach.”
The Coach ran his hand through the mist and disappeared.
“What--” asked TJ.
“It’s called an Iris Message. It’s a way for Half Bloods to communicate without cell phones sending out a signal to nearby monsters.” Annabeth explained.
“And the being called in?” Sam asked.
“To camp, in Long Island.”
“Okay then,” says Blitzen, “You guys can go to Long Island, me and Hearth will go to Nidavellir and look for Junior.”
Annabeth nodded, “If these things are sent from Loki then we need you guys.”
“Are you guys sure about going into Nidavellir alone?” Sam asked.
“We’ll be fine. Not our first time. But we should go now, Nidavellir is easier to enter at night.”
Hearth made a sort of jazz hands with slightly raised eyebrows that Leo guessed was a sarcastic yay.
“How are we supposed to get to Long Island?” asked Mallory.
“Chiron would have unfroze the accounts.” said Annabeth.
“Accounts?” Leo had never heard of these accounts before. Did Camp Half Blood have money?
Annabeth nodded, “In case of emergencies. We should be able to rent a car or two.”
Sam bit her lip. “I’m not very excited about leaving Boston and going into Greek territory. Boston is the Midgard entrance to the nine worlds. We won’t be able to leave Midgard without getting back to Boston. Valkyries can cross worlds almost anywhere but I don’t know what I’d be able to do alone in an emergency.”
Heath made a few signs and reached into his pouch. He brought out yet another domino and handed it to Sam. Magnus looked at it.
“Stanley! Oh perfect he can transport us between realms. Thanks Hearth.”
Hearthstone held up one finger.
“Yeah I know. One cast per customer.” Magnus smiled and Blitzen and Hearthstone left.
After they left, the evening calmed down. Everyone was so tired, even the ones who had their own rooms decided to sleep where they were sitting. Annabeth thanked her cousin and his friends for helping them. Then everyone bundled up for the night.
There weren’t enough blankets, Percy and Annabeth shared one, as did Hazel and Frank, and Jason and Piper. Man, Leo felt lonely. It made him miss Calypso. He was so disappointed when she said she didn’t want to come on the reunion. She said she thought it would be an intrusion, but Leo couldn’t help but think she wanted to be away from him.
Leo looked over at the Norse demigods. This made his feel a bit better. Sam was praying away from the group. Was it allowed to pray in a pagan afterlife? It was like some weird paradox.
TJ was already asleep, one hand around his gun. Mallory and Half Born were also bundled up, and even though Leo had seen them holding hands earlier, they had separate blankets.
That left two blankets and three people.
“Take it,” Alex said, throwing Leo one of the blankets. “I’ll share with this idiot.”
“I’m your idiot now.” Magnus smiled and grabbed the other blanket.
“Shut up” Alex said, although Leo saw him hid a smile.
For some reason, the fact Magnus had a boyfriend made Leo even more upset. He was starting to really hate the guy.
For what? He asked himself, because he might have seen inside my head when he saved my life?
Leo gave himself a small shake and laid down for the night.
He was being stupid. Leo didn’t know that Magnus saw anything.
Leo curled up under his blanket, sure he wouldn’t be able to sleep. But getting frozen takes a lot out of someone, and in minutes he was asleep.
Of course, Leo had to dream.
He found himself in a guest room in the big house at Camp Half Blood.
Outside the window, campers from the Ares and Hephaestus cabins were on guard duty. But why? Was there something wrong with Thalia’s pine tree?
Leo looked around the room. Nico Di Angelo and Chiron were keeping out of the way in a far corner, they looked at the bed in the middle of the room.
Travis Stoll was only semi conscious, obviously put onto the bed in haste. His left leg was hanging off the side and the bed was just a mattress. Leo’s heart jumped. Coach Hedge had heard a new camper was hurt badly, he had heard wrong, it was an old camper.
Travis’s face had a large cut under the eye and his hair was soaked with blood. His right leg and part of his midsection was covered in bloody bandages. Leaning over him was Connor Stoll, Clarisse La Rue, and Will Solace. Connor held onto his brother’s arm and dabbed a wet washcloth on his face. Tears streamed down his cheeks and his hands shook. Clarisse poured nectar down his throat. She also had some cuts and bruises but her face was set in a permanent scowl and her eyes had that fire that made Leo hide during capture the flag. Will’s hands were covered in Travis’s blood. He tightened the bandages around his midsection and opened the ones covering his legs.
If Leo could have throw up in a dream, he would have. The flesh was ripped off and Leo could see all the way down to his bone. The Nectar didn’t seem to be helping. The wound did not start to close or stop bleeding, which was unusual.
Will started stitching Travis’s leg back together, but it was proving difficult. Travis constantly pitched and cried out in pain, no matter how hard Connor and Clarisse tried to hold him down.
“Can you give him anything for the pain?” Connor’s eyes shined with tears as he gave Will a desperate look.
“The Nectar is supposed to do that. I tried mortal drugs too but they don’t last. Give me that vial I can knock him out for a little while.”
Will injected a syringe into Travis’s arm. The drug took effect almost immediately. He quickly stitched up the leg.
“We’ll be right back, okay Connor?” Will grabbed Clarisse’s arm and steered her towards Chiron and Nico.
“He’s dying; I don’t know what’s happening.” Will spoke in a shaky whisper. He had bags under his eyes and his hair was sticking up in the back.
“Why isn’t the Nectar helping?” Asked Clarisse.
“I don’t know. This has never happened before. Nectar is supposed to work better than mortal medicine.”
“Alright.” Chiron raised his hands to silence them. “The wolves, Clarisse, can you describe them for me in more detail.”
“Yeah, how did you find him?” Nico huffed. “All we know is you dragged him across the border of camp, talking about wolves.”
Clarisse shot Nico a withering look, one that only Nico Di Angelo could roll his eyes at.
“We go to the same college, death boy. When Chiron called people in we decided to leave together after my calculus class. I have a car. I went to pick him up and when I got to his dorm he was outside, being… eaten.”
Will paled, “Eaten?”
She nodded, “He got two of them, they were on the ground, but they turned to dust slower than most monsters I’ve fought. Best I could tell, he got his sword stuck in one of them thinking that it would turn to dust and they caught him unarmed. I got there in just enough time to… to get them off of him. That’s how he got the leg injury. It only spiraled from there when we got close to the border of camp. He -- he just couldn’t outrun them.”
Chiron nodded, “The wolves have set up a perimeter, keeping far enough away to catch us off guard if we go out looking for them. I have not seen any up close.”
“They have glowing blue eyes. They’re around the same size as Lupa’s wolves, and the fur color varies. I don’t know, besides the eyes there’s nothing that makes you think they’re magical.”
“They’ve got some type of venom that’s stopping me from closing Travis’s bites. Was there any discoloring on their teeth? Something I can identify?”
Clarisse shook her head, “normal yellow-white teeth, smell like usual wolf breath to, one almost bit my head off.”
“Well, something’s wrong,” Nico glanced at Travis and Connor, “It’s not good, I give him another forty-eight hours. He just isn’t fighting it like I thought he would.”
Will looked almost angry, “What are these things? How do we help him?”
Leo’s dream changed. He stood in what he vaguely recognized as Fenway Park (Leo wasn’t much of a sports guy).
He stood in the middle of the diamond. The park was deserted except for a single man in a Red Sox jersey and dirty blond hair at the pitcher's mound. He had his back to Leo, looking up at the rows of stands.
“Hello Leo Valdez.” The man slowly turned, his eyes scanning the stands. “I do love this stadium. Especially when it’s quiet like this. It becomes the perfect place to talk.”
The man faced Leo and looked at him. He looked familiar, but Leo knew he had never met him before.
He would have been stunningly handsome, if it weren’t for the scars. He had what looked like acid burns running across his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. He had holes in his lips as though someone had sewn his mouth shut.
Despite all that, his smile was warm and easy. Leo fought the urge to smile back, mostly because he was in a bad mood and wanted to stay in it.
“Have we met?”
“No,” he said regretfully, “not yet anyway. I’m afraid you might not be happy to see me when we truly meet. My children will be intent on telling you one side of the story. They are going through a fairly rebellious stage.”
Leo realized why this man looked so familiar. He was staring at the older version of Alex Fierro.
“You’re Loki. You sent those wolves after campers. You hurt Travis.”
Loki sighed. “My wolves were instructed not to make the first attack. I regret if anyone got hurt, I promise you I am. But I needed to get the campers together.”
“You’re evil! If you wanted the campers together you could have waited till summer! You could have gone yourself.”
“Oh, Leo, I barely have the strength to speak to you. Imagine going to every Greek demigod and talking them into going to camp. I would never be able to.”
Loki looked tired. He sighed as though he felt genuinely sorry.
“You don’t have the strength? What kind of god are you?”
Loki’s face turned sour. His eyes became stormy.
“I am the best god, Leo Valdez. Do you know why? Because nothing was handed to me, just like you. Why do you worship the Greek gods? Or the Norse? The ones born with immortal blood, sitting on thrones and expecting everything to be handed to them on a silver platter? Nothing was ever easy for you. You never had money, and when your mother died, you never even had a family, or a house, or friends. I was the same. I was born mortal, Leo Valdez. A Jotunn, ice giant. I had to work for every godly drop of ichor. Every immortal year. Who do you think deserves to rule Leo Valdez? And who do you think deserves to be locked away in a cave. Tied up with my own beloved sons’ intestines with a snake dripping venom on my face. I couldn’t go to every camper and explain my reasons and ask them nicely because I am trapped in cave and tortured constantly. And you know who ensures my torture Leo Valdez?”
Loki had slowly inched closer to Leo until he stood right in front of him. His eyes were dark and angry, his jaw locked.
“The disgraceful Norse demigods with whom you sleep now.” He leaned in close to Leo’s face. Leo could smell a faint scent on venom on his breath. “I came here to your dreams to warn you. You are not in good company. The ones you call allies have committed just as many crimes as the ones you have fought as enemies. Don’t let them deceive you.”
“You--you’re one to talk,” Leo stuttered, “You’re the god of trickery.”
Loki straightened and waved his hand in dismissal. “I do not go by any title like that. Some thought I was the god of trickery, some thought it was fire. But I am not tied to one trait. I can be whatever I want. Einherji, on the other hand, are made for one purpose. To kill. To go out into battle on doomsday and murder as many people as possible. They didn’t chose a side based on morals. They chose their side because it snatched them up first. I come here only to warn you. You don’t have to trust me, but if you value any good in the world, don’t trust them.”
Leo stumbled away from Loki and woke with a start.
Magnus was exhausted. He should have slept for twelve hours straight. He had put Jack back in pendant form before going to sleep which only should have ensured a peaceful night.
But no. The bladder wants what it wants and at around three in the morning Magnus had to take his head out of Alex’s arm and go to the bathroom.
The bathrooms in Valhalla were nice. The toilets barely made a noise when flushed so Magnus didn’t expect to wake anyone up.
Magnus opened the door, fully prepared to go back to bed with Alex. When he noticed someone. Sitting on the sofa, tinkering with bits of metal and wire, was Leo Valdez.
“You’re up early.”
Leo looked up. “Oh, yeah. Just bad dream. Needed to move around.”
Leo looked down at what he was building. It was a remote control car, just big enough to sit on his palm. He slipped it into his tool belt and started building another one.
“Right.” Magnus shifted from one foot to the next. He was still pretty tired and really didn’t want to talk. He felt awkward around Leo.
He bit his lip, he knew he couldn’t just let what had happened hang in the atmosphere.
“So,” he said, “you’re probably wondering about… about what happened when I healed you.”
Leo looked up. There was definitely hesitation in his eyes. And, if Magnus wasn’t mistaken, some distrust.
“Sometimes when I heal people I see inside their head,” Magnus continued, “I have to channel a good memory into it and I get a bad memory back.”
Leo nodded. “I saw you with your mother. On a picnic?”
Magnus would have been less surprised if Leo had slapped him. He didn’t know that the people he healed actually saw the memories he used.
Leo looked down at his hands, “You saw a lot more than one memory.”
“I know.” Magnus felt himself go red and looked at his hands. “It’s never been that much before.”
Leo said nothing. He focused on the machine in his hands. He was incredibly talented, his figures moved faster than Magnus thought possible. Magnus thought of what he had seen in Leo’s memories. A metal dragon, a flying ship. Leo might even be a better mechanic than Junior. No wonder Loki wanted him.
But Leo hated him. Magnus knew it, why shouldn’t he? Magnus had invaded the thoughts of someone more secretive than Alex without asking first.
“Would it help if I told you stuff about me?”
Magnus felt just as surprised as Leo looked. What had he just said? Leo was going to think he was crazy. What did he expect? To share some bad times and make everything even?
Magnus looked at Leo. His eyes were sad but also curios. Magnus realized he had put himself perfectly in Leo’s shoes without even realizing it. Leo was okay with sharing things with Magnus, he just wasn’t okay that it hadn’t been on his terms. So if Magnus shared, it would be the equivalent of them having a conversation about their pasts.
“Well… let’s see.” he shifted uncomfortably, walking over and sitting across from Leo. He had never recounted his entire life and death before “Our lives weren’t actually that different. My mom was great but she died when I was fourteen. I had Annabeth, and her dad, Frederick, and our other uncle, Randolph, but before Annabeth ran away from home there was a huge feud that started. It got to the point where my mom would drive past Randolph’s house and point to it telling me never to go there. That was her last words to me. “Don’t go to Randolph.” so I ended up on the street.”
“How did your mom die?” Leo winced. As though realizing that was an abrupt question “I mean, you don’t have to tell me. This is a stupid idea.”
Magnus laughed, “No, no, it’s fine I want to.” And the craziest thing was he meant it. He was ready to tell Leo anything about his life. He had never been that secretive, even living on the street, when being secretive was required. If this made Leo forgive him, then he wanted to do it.
“Loki did it,” He explained “well, not personally. He sent the wolves that are going after your friends from camp.”
Leo furrowed his brow and looked away. Magnus’s heart sunk, Leo was obviously confused that Loki killed his mother. That only meant one thing, Loki had been Leo’s bad dream.
Magnus didn’t say anything. He knew first hand how tricky Loki could be. If Magnus started rambling about how Loki couldn’t be trusted, Leo would only get more confused.
Instead he changed the subject.
“Are you hungry?”
Leo looked up, startled.
“Yeah kind of, is it safe to leave the room and get food?”
“Oh gods no. The mini bar is 24 hours, but it’s to the death and if you die here you don’t regenerate.”
“Regenerate? What is this place a video game?”
Magnus smiled. “Oh no, it’s much more violent.”
He walked across the room to the mini fridge in the corner and pulled out a large to-go bag.
“But I do have some leftovers of the best food in existence.”
Magnus held up the bag for Leo to see.
“Yeah do you like it?”
“Never tried it.”
Magnus smiled, “Well, it’s time you were educated.”
The rest of the night was a blur. Magnus’s life came forth easily after that. The Falafel led to how the Fadlans had given him free food on the street. That led to Sam and Amir and how they were engaged, which led to how he knew Sam because she brought him to Valhalla, which led the conversation to how Magnus had died.
“You swung at a ball of molten lava like a baseball?”
Magnus nodded, “With a heavily corroded piece of metal, yup.”
“And that metal turned into your magical talking sword?”
“Yeah, his name’s Jack, he used to be my dad’s.”
“And why did this Surt guy want him?”
“Surt’s destined to use Jack to cut Fenris wolf free, start Ragnarok, and kill my dad.”
Leo’s eyes widened. “Oh, well it’s a good thing you cut off his nose then.”
Magnus smiled wickedly. “It still hasn’t grown back. I think he’s gonna go nose less for the rest of his immortal life.”
Suddenly they were both laughing, the conversation continued from that to living on the street. They both were able to talk about that. But it wasn’t just about the hard times, it was about the good ones. The people and the safe havens. Eventually Magnus brought up that Alex lived on the streets too.
“His parents kicked him out,” Magnus paused, he had a good excuse to make a jab at Loki but would that help or hurt Leo’s chances of telling Magnus about the dream?
He decided to try. “Loki had always showed up at his house, reminding his parents that Mr. Fierro had cheated on his wife with a woman who was also a man. They blamed Alex for making their lives so confusing. Blaming Loki for him being gender fluid.”
“He’s gender fluid?” asked Leo.
Magnus remembered that Alex was usually first thought of as a guy from a stranger's perspective. Since Alex was a guy when they met, Leo never knew that he wasn’t always.
“Yeah he’s transgender and gender fluid. He’s usually a girl but today he was a guy, you get used to it.”
Leo nodded, eyebrows furrowed, “Can I ask a weird question? You don’t have to answer.”
Magnus laughed, they were just now getting to the weird questions?
“If you’re dating him and he’s a guy some days and a girl on the others does that make you gay or straight?”
Magnus laughed, “I looked it up after our second kiss. It makes me pansexual. Basically I can find anybody attractive no matter their gender or what.”
Leo laughed, “Okay wow. When I asked, I didn’t think there was going to be a name for it.”
Magnus smiled. They went from Alex back to living on the street.
“My best friends on the street were Blitz and Hearth. They didn’t tell me they weren’t human. They were sent by a god they were working for, Mimir, to keep me alive. Obviously, they failed but apparently they saved my life a bunch of times before the bridge.”
“They work for a god?”
“They used to. Not anymore, Odin relieved them from Mimir’s service.”
“Why did they work for him in the first place?”
“Mimir makes a deal with people. If you drink from his water, you’ll be enlightened and be able to do what you want most in life. But you have to pay with six years of service first.”
“What?! Six years? What would anyone want that badly to go through six years of service?”
“Well, Hearth and Blitz, for one, wanted to get away from the worlds they were born on. When Blitzen’s dad died Junior made his life hell. He can’t craft like most dwarves can and Junior and his dad’s rivalry got put on his shoulders. He drank the water hoping to be able to start a clothing shop. Hearth… Hearth had a really bad life. His parents didn’t like him because, well…”
Magnus gestured at his ears. It was hard, trying to explain Hearthstone’s motive for going into Mimir’s service without giving away Hearthstone’s past.
“It’s not his fault he’s deaf.”
Magnus nodded. “Yeah, but you know. Elves. Everything’s got to be perfect with them.”
Magnus tried to move the subject along. He didn’t want to talk about Hearth's past, but he understood why Leo was curious. And if it helped Leo trust them and shake off any influence from Loki…
“Hearth drank from the fountain to become a rune lord.”
“A what? What are runes?”
“They’re magic. There are basically three ways to get magical qualities in Norse mythology: you can be born with it, like me or Alex. It can be given to you, like with Valkyries and Einherji. Or you can study rune magic. Hearth is the only mortal who is able to study though.”
“Ummm.” Magnus thought for a moment. He wasn’t exactly an expert. “As far as I know, to be a rune lord you have to empty yourself, get exposed to a lot of pain before you can even start. Odin discovered runes by hanging himself from the world tree, Ygggrasil, with a spear sticking in him for nine days and nights. Then, in order to be able to manipulate the runes, you have to make a sacrifice. Odin sacrificed his eye.”
Leo gaped at him. He looked a bit green.
Magnus waited for another question only to realize Leo was afraid to ask it.
“Hearth didn’t do anything like that though!”
Leo let out a sigh of relief.
“Oh, good. What did he do?”
“Well, he -- uh -- kind of had the empty thing covered. He had a bad childhood.”
Magnus didn’t continue and Leo didn’t press.
“But Mimir provided the sacrifice. He gave Hearth a choice. He would either let Hearth begin in rune magic or he could give him the ability to hear. He could go back to his family, and live a normal life, stop the suffering. But Hearth decided to become a rune lord.”
“Wow.” Leo said, which pretty much summed it up. “So those dominos that he has are runes?”
Magnus laughed. He thought they were dominos when he first saw them as well.
“Yeah, the one he gave Sam earlier was ehwaz… uh hold on.”
He took out a pad of paper and drew Stanley's rune: ᛖ
“Yeah. It creates a magic horse that can transport about three people anywhere. He’s super useful.”
“What are some other runes?”
“Well the gods each have a rune. As far as I know, when you become a rune lord you basically pick a rune that you relate to. Odin’s looks like an F where the little branches go down,” He drew a ᚨ on the piece of paper. “And Frey’s is an F with the branches going up.” He drew a ᚠ. “Lots of other gods have some too. There are a lot.”
“Hearth has one?”
“Yeah Perthro.” Magnus drew the familiar ᛈ symbol on the page.
“What does it mean?”
Leo looked up. “Oh… Is that as depressing as it sounds?”
“Yeah, it means someone emptied from bad experiences. But it can also mean something good. A cup waiting to be filled. Good thoughts for the future.”
Magnus ripped off the piece paper and threw it towards the trash can.
Of course, it landed three feet short.
Leo ripped off another piece of paper and threw it towards the same trash can. He missed, but it was a foot closer.
“Wait I didn’t know it was a contest. That’s not fair.”
They spent the next hour throwing paper at the trashcan. They never got one in.
As they threw they talked. Leo explained the fight with Gaea. Magnus had heard about it from Annabeth but it felt more personal from Leo. He didn’t just talk about what had happened. He talked about the group. About how each of them had sacrificed something for the cause. He talked about Calypso.
“I think you’re overreacting because you have a girlfriend that’s way out of your league.”
“Gee, thanks, I love being reminded that she’s out of my league.”
“Hey, Alex is out of my league. There’s no shame in it. Well, not in your case.”
“I’m just afraid… I mean I helped her off of that island. I’m the reason she’s here. I’m just afraid that… That she woke up one morning and thought: wait, I don’t want to be with this guy. I mean, much better heroes have fallen for her. Odysseus, Percy… What if she doesn’t really want to be with me but just thinks she has to because I’m the one that got her off the island?”
Magnus thought about that.
“Well, first things first, if Odysseus and Percy were better heroes they would’ve gotten her off the island before you two ever met. And second… I don’t know what else you can do but ask her. But, even though I haven’t met her and barely know you, I’ll bet she still wants to be with you.”
That bit of advice seemed to actually help Leo. He talked a bit more about the quest for the prophecy of seven.
After he was through, Magnus decided to tell Leo about his quests.
They started with Fenris wolf and moved onto retrieving Thor’s hammer. Magnus left nothing out, except his friends’ backgrounds. It wasn’t his place to share. He talked about how boring Odin’s PowerPoints were, and how stupid and oblivious Thor could be.
“So, not like the Marvel movies?” asked Leo, throwing a crumpled up piece of paper just shy of the small waste basket.
“I wish.” Magnus laughed. “If the world were kind, Thor would look like my dad. Long blond hair and such. But no. Thor is a huge disgusting red haired god with immortal, depressed goats, that farts louder than thunder.”
“Is his hammer cool? You saw it right?”
“Yeah, I saw it. Half Born pulled his crotch trying to lift it. And no. It’s not cool. It’s an unimpressive slab of rock attracted to a handle that is way too small for it.”
“But you guys got it back right? The quest was successful.”
“We got it back but the quest wasn’t successful.”
“Loki escaped. He used the Skofnung sword, the one that Blitzen got stabbed with, the second sharpest sword in existence, to cut through his chains… well they aren’t chains really. They’re hardened intestines of his sons… a bit harsh but effective apparently.”
“How could he cut himself free? How did he get the sword?”
“He did it without touching the sword. A long time ago he killed my uncle Randolph’s wife and daughters. He told him that he would reunite Randolph with them, bring them back. So Randolph worked for him. The Chases are descended from some sort of royalty. That’s why we’re so -- ah -- popular with the gods. So Randolph was able to wield it. He tried to back out of Loki’s service but it was too late. I saw it in dreams… Loki tortured him, transferred the venom from the snake that hangs over him to Randolph… Mortals aren’t strong enough to feel that. He was kind of broken since then. He cut through Loki’s chains but it made the sword cursed. The effort ended up killing him.”
Magnus may have gone too far into detail there, but he wanted to tell Leo some bad stories about Loki since Loki was most likely telling Leo bad stories about him.
“When Loki escaped, he tried to start Ragnarok. Almost all the gods will die on Ragnarok, and Midgard will be overrun with fire giants like Surt. It will burn and everyone will die. We had to stop that.”
“How did you?”
“We traveled to the ship Naglfar, the ship of nails, and I challenged him to a Flyting.”
“What’s a Flyting?”
“Basically, you stand up against each other and insult the other. The more someone is insulted, the smaller they become. Like, literally, they shrink. Until they can be stepped on the other one. I won, astonishingly, because I drank a magical mead to make me a better speaker. Then Mallory locked him in a magic walnut that her mother gave her and we gave him back to the gods. They insisted to put him into the same prison.”
Leo was quiet for a long time. Magnus bit his lip. Had he gone too far? He didn’t want to make Leo nervous.
“He came to me in my dreams. That’s why I woke up.”
Magnus said nothing, waiting.
“I’ll tell everyone in the morning. I’m just not ready to digest it right now.”
Magnus nodded. He understood, and the strangest thing was, he was okay with it. He trusted Leo.
“Alright then. I’m gonna get another few hours of shut eye. I’ll hear all about it in the morning.”
Magnus walked off towards the middle of his suite. He sat down in the grass next to Alex and looked back up at Leo.
Leo looked up at him, shaken from a deep thought.
“You can’t trust him. I know there’s a large chance he didn’t ask you to and I know he probably said the same thing about me but I have never met someone who Loki hasn’t hurt in one way or another. You can give him a chance if you want to. I know I can’t talk you out of it if you do. Just stay on guard. Don’t get hurt.”
Magnus smiled at Leo. He laid back next to Alex, who rolled over in his sleep and he put his head on Magnus’s chest.
Magnus couldn’t help but think he had just made another great friend. And he hoped this one wouldn’t suffer at the hands of Loki.
Alex was an early riser. She woke just as the magical sunlight was bursting through the magical tree.
Yes, she was definitely a girl today.
Alex sat up and looked around. To her surprise, she wasn’t the first one up. Jason Grace and Frank Zhang talked in low voices to her left, and Sam lay staring at the ceiling, obviously finished with her morning prayer.
Alex looked at her watch and snorted. It was already 7:00 and they had somewhere to be but the nice people in the group decided to let people sleep.
“HEY WAKE UP.”
Alex smiled, that even made the conscious people jump up. Who needs an alarm clock? The prospect of waking other people up was what made her mornings worth wild.
“You-- are a force of nature, have I ever told you that?”
Magnus was the only one who wasn’t in the middle of having a heart attack or laughing. He stretched out and yawned like a cat. Which made Alex smile. Then she scolded herself for smiling.
But you’re allowed to smile now, she thought, he’s your boyfriend. She decided to have this internal conversation another time.
She stood and looked around people were starting to become fully conscious. Half Born and TJ had stopped laughing and Frank Zhang was no longer a bull dog.
“Alright everyone. I am a girl today. My pronouns are she/her. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to change and then we’ll head to Long Island.”
She walked towards the door and out of Magnus’s suite. She left partly because she wanted to change her clothes but also because she didn’t want to have to explain herself to any of Annabeth and Percy’s friends that might not understand her.
And of course, as the door closed she heard their friend Hazel ask the question.
“What did he mean just then?”
The door closed. Alex sighed, here we go again, she thought.
Suck it up Alex, she told herself, she had to live with these people for at least the next few days. She had become to used to her friends in Valhalla being accustomed to her, it was only a matter of time before she would have to talk with new people again.
Alex walked across the hall and entered her room.
It looked almost exactly like Magnus’s, with the tree and grass in the middle, but hers was filled with pottery. She walked across the room to the closet and picked out one of her favorite shirts with a pink jacket and pink leggings to go with it.
After changing she turned to close the closet but hesitated.
She should probably lend Annabeth, Hazel, and Piper some clothes. After all the only other girl was Mallory and she probably wouldn’t have anything that would fit them, she was pretty short.
Alex picked out her most “normal” clothes: a few green shirts and some regulation blue jeans that Valhalla gives everybody on arrival.
She turned to leave when something caught her eye.
There was a new picture on the mantle piece. Magnus had a lot of them. The hotel provides its residence with pictures from their old lives. They tried to do the same for Alex for the first few months. Pictures of her dad and step mom. She had always thrown the frames against the wall and burn the pictures. The only one she kept was one of her and her grandfather. He had her on his shoulders. She had been a girl the day it was taken, and he had bought her a little dress that she saw in a window of a store.
That was the only picture she allowed, and whoever put those things up had become aware of that by month three, but here she was again, with a brand new photo next to her grandfather’s.
She snatched it up and was about to throw it when she glanced at the picture.
Alex did a double take. It wasn’t of her family.
The picture showed Alex with a green coat and pink hat, standing in the middle of Boston Square Garden in a snow storm. Snow was caught in her hair and her cheeks were red. She smiled a genuinely happy smile, and was arm in arm with Magnus Chase. Kids from the Chase Space ran around in the background.
Alex knew this picture; Blitzen had taken it a few weeks after Christmas. Alex had made him delete it, not wanting evidence that Alex and Magnus had hugged in the snow like a they were in a teen romance movie. And yet, there it was, in her suite.
Why had the hotel given this to her? Did it know that she and Magnus were now a couple?
Alex slowly put the picture back on the self next to her grandfather.
The room was spinning. Suddenly everything felt very real. Very… stable. Alex wasn’t used to stability; she didn’t like stability. She had a tattoo on the back of her neck that represented constant change. She didn’t know how she felt about this.
She gave herself a shake. Her mother was reeking havoc for Greek demigods, she was going to have to have this crisis another time.
She turned away from her fire place and left the room.
Half Born, TJ, Mallory, and Sam had also left to change. Apparently Valkyries had changing rooms available when they stayed the night. Piper had changed into clothes from Blitzen’s Best that she must have bought with her chainmail jacket, and Magnus had given Frank, Jason, Percy, and Leo some clothes as well.
Alex walked over to Annabeth and Hazel.
“Here, these will probably fit you.”
They both looked down at the clothing.
“Wow, you own blue?” Annabeth mocked.
Alex smiled, “They give you three pairs of jeans when you get here, don’t get excited.”
Hazel thanked her for the clothes but didn’t meet her eyes. Obviously still not understanding her.
Alex didn’t need to explain herself. She turned and walked towards Magnus.
“Hey.” He smiled and handed her a bagel from room service.
“That Hazel’s confused.”
Magnus looked over her shoulder at Hazel.
“So was I,” he reasoned.
Alex didn’t like that reasoning.
Leo, who had been digging for a bagel, looked up.
“She died in 1942. She was resurrected but apparently it was the equivalent of, like, twenty minutes for her. She has some old fashioned views, every once in a while she get’s confused. But I wouldn’t worry, she’s a really great person.”
She looked at Leo. She wasn’t sure what to say to that. Greeks must have different kinds of afterlives, because most of her floor mates had understood enough. But Einherji were able to stay connected to the world, so that was different.
Alex decided to just let it be.
Sam walked in, soon to be followed by Half Born, Mallory, and finally TJ.
TJ was wearing his Civil War jacket again, which made Alex think he went and washed it instead of just changing clothes.
“Alright, there’s a car rental not far from here. Two cars should be enough. Do we need to go to an ATM or something first?” asked Sam.
Sam had her hair up in her Hijab and her ax in her belt. She looked like she was ready to pray, fight Loki’s wolves, and still be home by nine.
“Yeah, I know the number to the bank account so I’ll need to take out some money,” Annabeth explained.
Magnus packed some clothes and food into a backpack and threw it over his shoulder. Everyone looked about ready to go when Leo spoke up.
“So, I – uh had a dream last night.”
Magnus grabbed Alex’s arm and whispered in her ear.
“Loki talked to him.”
Chills went down her spine, but that was because of Magnus basically having his tongue in her ear.
As for Loki, she just sighed. Of course he talked to Leo. Why not? Loki will make the person in the group that he needs distrust them. It would be the easiest way to get Leo to do what he wanted.
“Did you see anything from Camp?”
“yeah I did. Well… it was in two parts. The first part was at camp.”
Leo described how a senor camper at Camp Half Blood was injured by the wolves.
“Oh gods, Travis. Will can fix him right?” Percy looked between Leo and Annabeth.
“I don’t know. Nico said that he had 48 hours. That he wasn’t fighting.”
“He’s right. If the injuries are as bad as you say, then he won’t want to fight.”
Everyone looked at Alex.
Magnus opened and closed his mouth like a fish.
“How – what, Alex?”
Alex rolled her eyes. Sometimes Magnus was just so clueless. Although this might be more Alex than him.
“I died from these things, remember? They – They’re like Loki. It’s not the injuries that kill you it’s – it’s like they talk to you. Remind you only of the bad parts of your life and ask you if it’s worth it. When I was fighting them, one finally got a bite and I just… stopped trying. He’s stopped trying.”
“But,” Percy looked close to angry. “But the ambrosia, it’s not just him not fighting the wolves. The wolves are gone. Why would him not fighting stop the ambrosia from working?”
“Ambrosia fixes demigods right? Fix is a relative term. Travis thinks he should die. So the ambrosia is only going to hurt him.”
Alex felt sorry but she didn’t show it the way the others did. She sat back, silently pondering what she would do when she got face to face with those wolves. Hazel gave her a weird look. Probably wondering why she was acting so heartless. She didn’t understand Alex, and Alex was perfectly okay with that.
“Well we have to send him an Iris message! We have to warn them! If the nectar is hurting him they need to stop giving it to him!” Percy looked around at his friends as if asking for permission
“We can’t,” said Piper. “I tried send an Iris message to Coach Hedge but it didn’t work. Iris messages are down. I’m not sure why,”
“I’ll tell you why.” Malloy piped up, “this is Loki’s thing. First send out wolves to kill Half Bloods and then cut off their communication. He’s getting everyone’s attention; I’ll tell you that.”
Alex nodded, “Definitely smells like Loki.”
“Are you sure? I mean why kill off Greek Half Bloods? Wouldn’t it be more likely that he’s trying to get everyone together?” asked Leo.
“Then he wouldn’t have set his wolves on them,” Alex explained. “The wolves are the monsters he sends when he wants people to die. They can’t be restrained. If he wanted to get people together all he would have done is scared or brainwashed the right person. Hey, he could have gone into the dreams of each camper separately and convinced them, he’s got the ability.”
“He’s not too weak for that?” asked Leo.
Alex laughed, “What?! Too weak? Sure, he’s tied up, but… well let’s put it this way. He is tied up in a magical prison with a snake dripping venom on his face.” Alex paused to smile wickedly. She loved her mother’s punishment. “But he was able to go into the mortal world and solidify for nine months while carrying me as a baby and at the same time he had the strength to go fool around with Sam’s mom. Not strong enough to enter some dreams? Trust me, he’s plenty strong. And dangerous.”
“Did we have to bring up the mom thing??” asked Sam, turning red.
“Well then we’ll just have to get to Camp Half Blood fast enough to save Travis.” Annabeth shouldered her backpack. Everyone looked ready to leave but Magnus turned to Leo.
“You had another part of your dream?” He asked.
“Umm. Yeah,” said Leo. “I – uh, met Loki.”
Alex had once had a crabby old English teacher who used to tell her that silence was worth a thousand words. Now Alex understood what he meant.
Then Mallory swore.
“Nice way to set the mood.” Magnus smiled like it didn’t matter that Leo probably hated them now and was confused enough to work for Loki.
Everyone else looked nervous. TJ fiddled with his gun and didn’t make eye contact, Sam looked like she was about to faint, even Half Born looked shaken.
Alex on the other hand stayed cool. Nothing changed in her stature or her face. That was the weird thing with her and Magnus, when disaster hit neither of them let it show on their face. Magnus would smile, and Alex would be ready for any fight that might come. It’s how they stayed alive, and made such a good team…
She shook herself out of her trance. Leo had just mentioned Loki and here she was thinking about Magnus Chase.
She gestured at Leo, “What did he say?”
“Don’t worry, we can take it.” Magnus winked at Leo and Leo smiled.
Had they become… friends? Alex’s head spun. How did he do that? Only Magnus Chase could become friends with someone that fast. What, did they stay up all night talking? It had a very cheesy romance movie feel which made Alex angry. But then she realized that Leo Valdez was probably straight and Magnus was head over heels in love with her.
“Um. Well I woke up and I was in Fenway park.”
Leo explained his conversation with Loki.
“Well,” Half Born stood and smiled, “You definitely held your own, for the first part anyway.”
Alex looked around the group. Everyone from Greek or Roman decent looked terrified and confused, like they were now thinking about what Loki had said or they were afraid that Leo was thinking about it.
The Norse demigods, on the other hand, were all smiling and showing signs of relief.
“Well, he definitely did his worst, but you seemed to fight back alright. The first time Loki talked to me I was tempted to join his side. You called him evil and everything!” Magnus smiled brightly and the room relaxed a bit.
Sam spoke up. “Most of what he said was true. He was born mortal and worked his way up. Although ‘work’ also means ‘trick and lie’ in his view. And it’s true, Einherji don’t really get to pick which side their on. But if it makes you feel any better, the ones that think Odin is on the wrong side usually don’t fight. They just retreat into their rooms and disappear. It happens more than you would think. These guys actually go out and fight for Odin. They aren’t required to, they do it because they believe in it. As for the whole ‘I’m not strong enough to be nice’… well, Alex explained that pretty good. And then there is the fact that we put him in his prison.”
Sam smiled so wickedly that it made Alex genuinely proud. She loved her sister.
“No denying, no excuses. We did that one hundred percent.”
“Isn’t that a little harsh?” asked Hazel. Alex was really starting to hate Hazel Lévesque. She was too… innocent.
“It would be,” Alex said, “if it was anyone but Loki.”
That killed the mode.
But, surprisingly, Leo looked better.
“Okay then,” he said, “Where’s this car rental?”
Getting the cars was easier than Alex thought it would be. Annabeth got some money from an ATM and they rented two cars with cash.
The dealer gave them a skeptical look. Alex was sure he was going to call the cops thinking they had stolen the money. But Piper had a few tricks up her sleeve.
“We really need to get to Long Island,” she said. “So it wouldn’t be any trouble to rent us these cars. Right?”
The dealer blinked.
“What just happened?” Alex looked at Piper.
She smiled. “It’s an Aphrodite thing. Charm speak.”
Alex looked at her. Half Bloods were so weird sometimes. Her power was cool but it was her power. Why does every Half Blood insist on giving their parents credit for the things they do? Sam had the same problem, that’s how Loki was able to control her. Alex didn’t care what anyone else said; every time a Half Blood gave their parents credit for them they relinquished some control. It made Alex angry that Half Bloods were alright with giving their parents that kind of power. Or maybe she was mad that other godly parents didn’t take advantage of their children when their children so openly gave them the option.
After they got the cars there was the problem of how to split up. They decided that, incase they were separated, they should mix up mythologies.
And so, based on a disgusting amount of debate by Sam and Annabeth involving skills and gas mileage, Alex sat in the front seat of a black SUV, driven by Percy, with Frank, Half Born, TJ, Piper, and Hazel.
Piper, Hazel, and TJ sat in the back, they were all so skinny so they were barely even touching.
Hazel, apparently having been born in 1929 as a black girl, was very interested in the Civil War and how TJ had fought in it. The first hour was spent discussing that. The second was spent listening to the radio and Percy and Half Born arguing over who the best Marvel super hero was. Piper asked why Half Born liked Spiderman instead of Thor, (“isn’t it nice to have a franchise talk about your mythology?”) which lead to TJ, Half Born, and Alex laughing with no explanation for a solid fifteen minutes before TJ, being the nice one, explained how the movies were inaccurate.
Alex slept for the next hour and a half. Mostly because she didn’t want to talk to anyone but also because she couldn’t stand the silence.
When she woke up, Half Born was talking about Mallory.
“She’s very annoying sometimes. That woman has the loudest, most annoying voice I’ve every heard.”
“Clearly you’ve never heard yourself.” Alex stretched and put her feet on the dashboard. She took out her garrote and started to clean her nails. She did it mostly for show, but was surprised at how well it filed.
“Ah, you’re awake. What a shame. It was so peaceful.”
“Watch it Half Breed.”
“Half Born. Human’s are born not breeded.”
“Wow, you’re human?”
They might have gone on like this for a while if Piper hadn’t jumped in.
“Why Half Born? Is there a reason for the name?”
“Yes, when I was born my mother said I looked half born, half carved from stone.”
“Wow, the sculptor did a horrible job.”
Half Born looked at TJ.
“I change my mind; I want to switch cars. Even Mallory’s better than her.”
“Well,” he said, changing the subject, “we’ve covered Half Born’s relationship. Anyone else?”
“Annabeth’s cool,” said Percy. “We first met when she was feeding me nectar. I was half unconscious. She asked me what was going to happen on the summer solstice. I had no idea what she was talking about but I fell unconscious again so I didn’t have to answer. The official meeting, when I was fully conscious, was easy enough. I said hi, she told me I drooled when I slept. Four years later we were dating.”
“What about first kiss?” asked Piper.
“Oh, right. We were in a volcano. She thought I was gonna die so she kissed me and then left.”
“Did you die?”
Percy turned to look at Alex.
“No,” he said with an exasperated expression.
“You shouldn’t take your eye’s off the road.”
He turned back to look at the road which Alex decided to take as a personal victory.
“How about you TJ?” asked piper, “any relationships?”
“No. There was a girl from floor twenty-three about fifty years ago but it only lasted a year.”
“Ugh, crazy witch, it was one year too long.” Half Born scratched his bread and frowned.
“She was fine,” TJ continued as though he hadn’t heard Half Born, “we just didn’t last. She went recluse about fifteen years ago.”
“Gods, just like that or did she go insane first?” She stopped filing her nails and turned to look at them.
“Oh, yeah, she definitely went insane. Started committing suicide, and not the acceptable kind.”
Alex nodded. Valhalla didn’t have many rules, but the biggest one was you didn’t kill yourself. You could jump off of balcony one hundred, as long as it was for experimental purposes, and it was okay to try and get killed. People ran up through the hotel with signs that say ‘If you kill me I’ll give you a dollar’. But you were not allowed to kill yourself just for the fun of dying. If your death was from your hand and not accidental, you could get into serious trouble. Even in an afterlife devoted to dying over and over again, suicide was not an option and if that wasn’t symbolic of suicide in general, Alex didn’t know what was.
“Well Alex, that leaves you. Tell us all about you and Magnus.”
Alex looked at TJ.
“What? How—did he just go to each of you right after I asked him and tell you? We’ve only been going out one day, and half of that has been us in separate cars.”
“No, no, Sam texted us when you told her. It’s about time.”
“About time? You guys have been waiting for this?”
“Are you kidding?” Half Born piped up, “We’ve been betting on it!”
“I got twenty bucks from Mallory because you asked him. Never doubted you for a second.”
Half Born smiled and winked at Alex. She should have been angry, but she wasn’t. After Magnus expressing his love for her in front of all of their friends, her mother, and the army of the dishonorable dead, it was hard to keep many secrets from them.
“Who got the most money?” she asked.
“Sam. She had the time almost to the day. You were two days early. Can you believe that?”
Unfortunately, she could. And Alex thought she had succeeded in nobody remembering. Sam knew her too well. She knew that Alex would ask Magnus out on the first anniversary of the day she died. Stupid Sam and her stupid telepathic powers. Her complete sisterly understanding. It was making Alex feel too predictable.
“Okay so what do I say?”
“How you met and first kiss.” Piper smiled.
“Okay… well we met on the day I died. I ran over his feet in cheetah form. Then, in combat that afternoon, when we officially met, I decapitated him.”
Alex smirked. That was enough to silence even this crowd.
“Do I win?” she asked.
“You decapitated him?” Hazel looked like she was going to be sick, which Alex was getting used to.
“Yeah she did, I was there, it was something.” TJ was smiling. Alex knew he acted all nice but also really liked some good old fashioned decapitation.
“Should I be afraid to ask about first kiss?” asked Percy.
“There was no decapitation involved, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“We were on the ice world Niflhiem. Very cold. 0/10, would not recommend. And everyone buddied up and started walking towards what vaguely looked like civilization. And I thought we were going to die so I kissed him under a blanket and then told him to stop gaping at me and move.”
“Wow, you should write poetry,” mocked Half Born.
“Hey, it’s better than your ‘oh she’s so loud and annoying’ crisis that I woke up to.”
“Okay!” said TJ before Half Born could make a comeback, which Alex took as another personal victory. “Another subject?”
“Frank,” said Half Born, which made Frank jump, “Who is your godly parent? Who gave you the ability to shape shift?”
“Oh,” said Frank, “My godly parent is Mars, god of war?”
He said it as though he was asking permission to be the son of a war god. Alex smiled to herself. Frank seemed much too nice and terrified to be a war god’s son.
“But I get the shape shifting from my mother’s side. The Zhang’s are descendants of Poseidon. The god of the sea.”
Alex turned around to look at Frank.
“You have godly blood from your dad’s side and your mom’s side?”
“Um. Yeah.” Frank looked scared and seemed to shrink when she looked at him.
Alex pretended not to notice. “Doesn’t that make you… I don’t know, a god?”
Percy laughed in delight, “He’s as close as they come.” He chirped.
Frank turned very red. “No. I’m not a god. That’s not…”
“Still, that’s a lot of immortal blood.”
“It’s very far back on my mom’s side. It’s nothing.”
Alex almost felt bad for the big guy. He seemed to really hate the spotlight.
“So, Percy. You’re a son of Poseidon, how come you can’t shape shift?” TJ asked.
Percy laughed. “I’m not sure. I guess I got the whole sea power thing instead of shape shifting.”
“What about you Hazel?” TJ looked to his right. “Who’s your godly parent?”
“Pluto. God of the underworld. I can control precious metals. But I don’t, I didn’t have a great time doing it in my past life.”
TJ nodded. “That’s still cool though. I’m starting to think my dad gave me a bad hand. All I got from him was the inability to back down to a direct challenge.”
Alex laughed. She remembered their run in with the giant Hrungnir and how quickly TJ excepted a challenge to fight him one on one.
“You what?” asked Frank.
“He can’t back down from a challenge.” Alex jumped in, “Whenever someone challenges him to anything he screams “I ACCEPT” and then does it. One time I challenged him to jump off a balcony when he was being annoying and he did it.”
“Yeah that was really mean. I can’t help it.”
“It is funny,” Half Born supplied. “But, of course, it is also the reason he is being so suicidal.”
“What?” asked Alex, “Did Garmr challenge you or something? I thought you were just going after him because of the Ragnarok thing.”
“He came into Boston. That’s challenge enough. My dad came to me in a dream after I was killed during lunch. He told me Garmr would be in Boston. That’s all I needed.”
“I’m confused,” said Hazel.
Alex bit back the retort when aren’t you? And explained.
“Garmr is destined to kill TJ’s dad, Tyr, on Ragnarok. TJ wants to kill it, which is stupid since it’s immortal until that day.”
“I’m not trying to kill it,” assured TJ, “I just want to give it a scar. Like poke out one of it’s eyes.”
Alex rolled her eyes. “What a great way to get killed.” She turned towards her window. Then she changed the subject.
“So, this camp. What’s it like?”
“It’s great,” said Percy. “activities like chariot racing and capture the flag. There are cabins that represent each god. You sleep in your godly parent’s cabin. Basically do everything with them. All the games can win your cabins either no chores or warm water in the shower. It’s pretty cool.”
It didn’t sound cool to Alex. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be labeled because of her mother. Having to sleep in a cabin dedicated to him and win points under his name… It sounded like Helium.
“What happens if you’re the only child that your god has had? Aren’t you the only son of Poseidon?” Asked TJ.
“Yeah. It gets a little lonely. But sometimes my half brother Tyson is there. And I team up with other cabins for activities.”
“What about the injured kid?” asked Alex, “Travis? What cabin’s he in? What does he do?”
Alex knew the questions were a bit abrupt but she needed to know these things if they were going to help him.
“He’s in the Hermes cabin.” Percy didn’t sound confused by the questions. In fact, he seemed happy to talk about it. “He and his brother Connor aren’t twins but they look exactly the same. Except Travis is a bit taller. They’re the camp’s pranksters.”
Percy paused, his eyes on the road.
“They’re the best couple of thieves I’ve ever met. Stole live land mines from the Ares cabin. Once, they put chocolate bunnies in the grass on the Demeter cabin roof for Easter. No one from the Demeter cabin knew they were up there until they started to melt and looked like big piles of Pegasus poop.”
“What about the time they said they had the defense covered in capture the flag and all they did was rig up Chiron’s music blare from where the flag was and ran out to play offence.” Chimed in Piper.
“Yeah!” Percy laughed, “I can’t believe it worked.”
Frank laughed. “Were those the two that stole every weapon in the armory and hung them from the gutter of the big house?”
Percy laughed again. “Yeah. It took the Ares cabin and the Apollo cabin hours to get them down. Clarisse almost lost her head when a sword came swinging down from the second story.”
“Oh and Clarisse. She almost killed them every time they stole her shield.”
“Or her spear, or flag, or helmet. They weren’t kind to Clarisse.”
“Then how come Leo said she was helping him in the dream?” Alex asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe they’re growing on her.”
“Why do you want to know?” Piper asked.
“Because--” Alex wasn’t able to finish. Suddenly, Percy yanked the wheel and they swerved off the road.
“What was that?!” Asked Piper.
“Wolf!” said Percy, “Right in the middle of the road.”
Alex glanced over to the road. It wasn’t there anymore, but she took her garrote from her belt loop anyway.
“How far are we from your camp?”
“About a half a mile.” Percy got out of the car and looked at the driver’s side front tire.
“I blew a tire. But we can walk from here.”
“If the wolves don’t kill us.” Frank said as he stepped out of the car.
“I don’t think the car would’ve helped us there.” TJ looked downright cheerful. Most Einherji did when facing a fight.
After a bit of shuffling, they started down the road towards Camp Half Blood.
“The others should be close behind us. I’m not sure where they are.”
Percy looked down the road. He was probably worried about Annabeth.
Those two were cute. Always looking out for each other. Alex couldn’t see Magnus and her like that. She doubted anyone would describe them as cute.
Alex shook her head to clear her thoughts. Here she was again, daydreaming about her boyfriend. She needed to focus. She had her garrote in her hand. She knew Loki didn’t want Norse demigods at the camp. She didn’t know why though…
They walked down a deserted road for a few minutes in silence.
Where were the wolves? Why weren’t they trying to rip them to shreds by then? Why did the wolf that Percy swerved to avoid run? They were disoriented, she had never known one to be scared off.
Alex stopped. Which made Half Born nearly run into her.
“What are you --?”
She shushed him. They stood there for a few seconds. Something wasn’t right. They were letting them through. It wasn’t that they were stopping them from entering… it was as if they were there to stop campers from leaving. Why stop campers from entering the camp? The whole reason Loki sent the wolves was to bring the campers together. If she was her mother, she would send the wolves to make sure all the half bloods were kept in one place. Their own personal prison. And they were walking in on their own accord.
“He wants us to go there.”
“What?” TJ gave her a strange look, but she was onto something.
“The wolves aren’t here to keep us out. The wolves are here to keep us in. The campers! Loki wants to keep them inside of Camp Half Blood. And it wouldn’t be hard. Why leave when there are man eating wolves outside your door? Loki was telling the truth when he talked to Leo, just not all of it. He needed to get the campers together. He could have done that by going to each person individually, he needs the wolves to make them stay together. No quests, no stopping him. And us! He needed us not to intervene either. We wouldn’t go to Camp Half Blood because he asked nicely, but we would if Loki’s wolves were there. We would if there was a camper on his death bed and no other way to save him. No way to communicate conveniently after we knew everything we needed to know. And once we’re there we’re stuck! I’ll bet you anything he gave Leo that dream about Travis. That he hurt Travis on purpose in order to get us there. And, come to think of it, what are the odds that Garmr, one of the only monsters that we were sure to notice, would relentlessly attack two Greek demigods? What are the odds that it would transport the only two demigods that had any connection to Norse mythology right into Norse territory? He’s keeping us all locked up in one place! We can’t fall for his trap!”
Alex turned to look at everybody. Most of them just looked confused, but TJ crossed his arms and sighed.
“Well, I’m going to bring up the question that always beats us when we figure out how we’re being used in Loki’s plans.”
Alex crossed her arms and looked at him. “And what question is that?”
“What other choice do we have? Seriously, what do we do? Leave and let that guy Travis die?”
Alex gritted her teeth. He was right, they had no choice. Loki had covered all of the loopholes as usual.
Or did he?
Percy saw a wolf. He saw it back on the road where we got a flat tire. And Leo had told them that they were surrounding the camp just far enough away so the campers would get separated if they went out to hunt for them. But what if they didn’t leave to hunt for them?
“Yes.” Alex looked around at the group. “Yes that’s exactly what we do. We’re inside their border. If we turn around and leave right now what will happen? The wolves on this side of camp will attack us. But how many do you think there are? Twenty? We pretend to leave and we kill as many wolves as we can. We’ll weaken the defenses on this side of camp. Make it easier to slip away later.”
“And if there are too many wolves and we get in over our heads?” asked Frank.
“We’ll run for your camp,” supplied TJ. “There can’t be too many wolves out here though. Just enough to keep the camp scared enough to stay inside. Enough to keep in three demigods if they decide to go on a quest. The rest are out harassing everyone else.”
“Hold on.” Frank put his hands in a time out sign. “Your plan is to walk back the way we came and hope we’re attacked by wolves so we can kill them? What if more wolves just take their place? What if they realize what we’re doing and just let us?”
“I don’t know but we have to try right?” Alex looked around at the group.
“Should we wait for the others?” asked Hazel, “They can’t be too far behind us right?”
They looked down the road, as if expecting them to come around the corner.
“Oh gods.” Pipers eyes were wide.
“What?” asked Percy.
“Leo!” Piper turned back to look at them. “The only time we we’re actually attacked was because of Leo! They’re not right behind us because they’re being attacked! Even if they get this far the wolves won’t let them through. Loki wants Leo!”
“Then it’s settled.” Percy uncapped his pen sword, Riptide. “We kill the wolves.”
“Alright then.” Alex marched off away from the camp.
She was aware of everyone else following her. It was incredibly awkward. They all kind of hobbled, ready for wolves to jump out of the trees and attack with every step.
Finally, Hazel spoke up.
“I don’t think they’re going to attack.”
Pro tip: If you’re a half blood, never say “they’re not going to attack”
They turned at a bend in the road and there, sitting on it’s back legs, was a wolf with glowing blue eyes.
Alex didn’t hesitate. She lashed out with her garrote and lobbed the wolf’s head off.
“Do you think that’s it?” Piper looked around.
Before Alex could figure out if she was kidding wolves howled from almost every direction.
Half Born lifted his ax. “And now the fun begins.”
The wolves seemed to come at them ten at a time. Just as they cut down one wave, the next one came out of the foliage.
Alex went into that strange mindset where she was never sure if she was only one animal.
She turned from Human, striking out with her garrote, to tiger, slashing with her claw, to an eagle, diving with talons extended, before she could take a breath.
As far as she could tell, Frank was doing the same thing. Every once in a while he turned human to shoot a wolf that was just emerging from the trees.
Hazel and Piper stood back to back. Hazel cut down wolves with her long, golden sword. Piper had two blades in either hand. One held a small, silver knife, the other a wicked bronze sword.
TJ lashed out at wolves with his Bayonet. Catching them right as they jumped onto the road.
Percy and Half Born covered each side of the road, making sure none scrambled back from where they came.
After a while, Alex heard Frank shout over the battle.
“They’re pushing us back. We have to reposition ourselves so we’re playing more offense.”
Wait, thought Alex, do Romans actually plan?
She laughed. How… different.
Hazel seemed to understand him and started moving up the street. Percy and Piper seemed to shift slightly. If Half Born and TJ heard him, they didn’t let on.
The wolves’ numbers seemed to grow. Suddenly, each of them was fighting two at a time. Percy shouted over the fighting.
“I say we got enough. Let’s go before one of us get’s our head ripped off.”
In perfect timing, a wolf jumped up and tackled Piper. She was able to get her arms up to protect her face. The wolf’s teeth broke against Blitzen’s chainmail.
TJ shot the wolf and helped her up. Together the group started to retreat.
Another difference between mythologies: The Romans in the group slowly started to walk backwards towards the camp. The Greeks did a sort of half jog, staying sideways to fight of any wolves. In Valhalla, when you leave a fight, you leave fast.
Alex, TJ, and Half Born grabbed their weapons and ran, full tilt, down the street towards a camp they had no idea how to enter.
Luckily, the other four seemed to catch on, and after a few seconds Percy took the lead.
He led them up a hill. The wolves seemed to forget about how they were supposed to let them into the camp. Fifteen wolves snapped at their heels.
“Just past that pine tree!” Percy yelled.
Alex wasn’t sure if they would make it. The wolves were gaining. But then she noticed ten kids standing at the top of the hill.
Five of them fired arrows.
Five wolves went down.
One of the figures started playing some sort of instrument. Suddenly, the grass started to grow and move. It wrapped around the wolves’ feet and slowed them down. The seven of them collapsed inside what must have been a magical barrier surrounding the camp. The wolves stopped and turned back. They had made it to Camp Half Blood.
Hazel got down on all fours and tried to regain her breath. Stupid wolves, she thought, stupid Norse demigods, what were they thinking, just turning and running? Her train of thought was interrupted by what sounded like a faun.
Hazel looked up, the faun she recognized as Grover ran up and gave Percy a big hug.
A girl helped Piper to her feet and gave her a hug.
“Hi Lacy. Where’s Travis?” Piper asked the girl.
“He’s in the big house. First room on the left.”
Everyone scrambled to their feet and took off towards the large house.
“Wait! Where did you come from? Percy, what’s happening?” Grover shouted after them, but they didn’t listen. They had wasted too much time already.
Percy led the way through the house and burst through a door.
“Don’t feed him nectar!” he shouted.
Will Solace jumped and spilled a glass of Nectar across the floor. She had only met Will once before. After the battle with Gaea. But she recognized him. He looked a bit like Jason, if Jason was a lot more laid back.
“Wha--? Percy, gods, you nearly gave me a heart attack!”
“What do you mean don’t give him nectar?” A large girl with a mean face and sturdy build stood up and glared at Percy. Hazel shuddered, Clarisse La Rue was one of the scariest demigods she knew.
“It’ll kill him,” said someone from behind Hazel.
Hazel almost groaned. Stepping forward, as though looking for a fight, was Alex Fierro.
Hazel was having a hard time understanding him. Her! Shoot. Her, her, her. He liked to go by her. She! Shoot! Hazel bit her lip. Maybe she could avoid pronouns when it came to Alex.
Clarisse gave her a menacing look, but Alex just rolled her eyes.
“What do you mean? Who are you?” asked Conner.
Alex looked at the boy sitting next to the bed. Hazel was afraid she would start yelling at Connor.
“Connor this is Alex. She’s…” Percy stopped, trying to find the right words to describe Alex Fierro.
“I’m an expert on these particular wolves.” Alex finished for him.
Hazel was surprised. For the first time since meeting her, Alex looked kind. She took a few steps forward.
“The bits aren’t the worst part of these wolves. When they bite you they make you relive your worst memories. They make you want to die. Nectar doesn’t help someone who isn’t trying.”
Chiron wheeled his wheelchair forward. Standing next to him was Hazel’s brother, Nico.
Hazel’s heart lifted. She smiled slightly at her brother. She always felt better when he was around.
Nico, however, looked very confused. His eyes darted from Alex, to Half Born, to TJ, and back to Alex. Hazel’s eyes widened. She didn’t realize Nico would probably sense that they were dead. He must think he was having delusions.
“Alright, do you have a suggestion?” Chiron looked calm. Hazel didn’t know him well, but even she could tell that he was hurting.
Hazel bit her lip. Did they have any suggestions?
“Yes,” said Alex, “remind him of the good memories.”
Everyone stared at her. It sounded cheesy. Like something hypnotists diagnosed. But she said it without a hint of sarcasm.
“How? He’s unconscious.” Clarisse glared at Alex, but Alex just gave her a look as though to tell her, what that’s it? I’ve seen puppies look more menacing.
Hazel had a strange desire to hid behind the couch before the fighting started.
“He can hear us, trust me. I’ve been in his shoes before.”
“Is that how you died?” Asked Nico. Everyone looked at him, half surprised, half confused. Alex, however, didn’t miss a beat.
“As a matter of fact, yes. But he isn’t going to. All we need is good memories.”
Alex looked around the room.
“Okay, I’ll start.”
Alex sat down next to Travis and started to talk about the time he and his brother put Chiron’s music by the flag instead of playing defense and how they had put the chocolate bunnies in the grass of the Demeter cabin’s roof. Hazel was shocked. She hadn’t realized Alex had asked Percy to talk about Travis for any particular reason. Hazel couldn’t have imagined Alex being kind until now, watching her sitting next to Travis and talking about him as though she was his biggest fan.
Alex stopped talking, and Hazel realized it was because she was out of stories. She looked up at the group and raised her eyebrows like, well? Am I the only one who gets to talk?
Hazel looked at Connor, but he seemed to have lost his voice.
And then, the last person Hazel would have expected stepped forward.
“How about, in that stupid mythology class we’re taking, when the teacher thought you made up that story that you researched for the midterm? And you challenged him saying that if you were right and the story was really a myth, the whole class would get an A. And two weeks and five historians later it turned out you were right? And the time when he asked you to list personality traits of Apollo and you said that he never stops saying bad haikus? And how Kronos looked like your half brother? You made that teacher have a metal breakdown.”
At that point, Percy was laughing and Piper was trying to hide it.
Alex reached down and brought out some nectar. She poured a drop down his throat. Hazel watched as the cut on Travis’s leg stopped bleeding. The nectar was starting to work.
Connor watched as the leg started to heal itself. His mouth was slightly open. Then, he put his head on the bed next to his brother and started whispering in his ear. Hazel heard a few bits about their mother and siblings.
Chiron gestured to the group and they filed out into the main room of the big house.
TJ looked at Alex “Nicely done. I’ve never seen you so…”
“So what? I’m a very caring person Thomas Jefferson.” She glared at him, daring his to say more.
Hazel sighed to herself. She thought she might have seen the real Alex. Now she was even more confused. It felt like Alex didn’t to want to be liked.
“So. Who wants to explain.”
Chiron wasn’t mad. He just sat back and waited for everything to make sense.
“Why are you dead?”
Everyone turned. Nico seemed to be speaking to the room.
Will nudged him and gave a what is wrong with you? kind of look. But before Will could apologize on Nico’s behalf, TJ laughed.
“How did you know?” asked TJ with a good natured smile.
Will’s head shot around and looked at TJ instead.
“Nico’s a son of Hades,” explained Percy, “He knows this stuff. As for the dead thing.”
Percy looked at the others in the group.
Someone help me explain this. He seemed to say.
Half Born stepped forward but Alex grabbed his arm and pulled him back. Hazel agreed with that. The last thing they needed was for Half Born to explain his death in great detail as though hoping to win an award.
Hazel figured she was probably the best one. She explained how they had found themselves in Boston and Annabeth had called her cousin. How her cousin was dead and he was a Norse demigod.
Chiron was a good listener. After she was done he sighed and put his hands on his lap.
“Well I can’t say that I’m surprised. These wolves didn’t sound like anything I have met before.”
“Where is Annabeth?” asked Will, “Where’s everyone else?”
“We took two cars,” Hazel explained, “They should have been right behind us but Loki wants Leo for some reason. We only just realize they might’ve been attacked.”
There was a definite tension in the room. They wanted to help, but how?
“Okay.” Alex straightened her jacket. “Me and Frank can fly. I say we leave and try to help them. Then we can—”
“No,” Will cut her off. “Venti are surrounding the camp from the air. You guys are right about this guy Loki wanting to keep everybody in.”
“Then… What?” Percy looked around the room. “We just wait?”
“Yes.” Chiron sighed. “We can’t risk it.”
“Don’t worry Percy,” said Will, seeing Percy’s face, “Annabeth’s tough. They’ve been through worse.”
Hazel glanced at Alex Fierro. A gender fluid, transgender, pink and green daughter of Loki who fought with what looked like a clay cutter. Hazel didn’t think they had fought anything quite like this before.
The ride had been going smoothly, until the car flipped. Magnus was vaguely aware of someone screaming. Then he realized it was him. The car tumbled over and over again until suddenly it rolled to a stop. Magnus silently thanked the inventor of the seatbelt. From the swearing, he guessed everyone was alive and conscious.
Of course, they were hanging upside-down. Suddenly, Magnus had the desire to curse the inventor of the seatbelt. They couldn’t just unbuckle; it would break their necks.
Mallory proved him wrong by unbuckling and crashing to the floor (celling?). She swore, but seemed alright.
“Everyone alive?” asked Annabeth from the driver’s seat.
“For the moment,” said Leo. “I knew this trip was too boring.”
They all tried to get out of their seats with more agility than Mallory. Annabeth accidentally hit the horn and swore, but other than that, nothing happened.
“Anything broken? Everyone good?” asked Magnus.
People shook their heads and rubbed bruises.
“What hit us?” asked Jason.
Annabeth shook her head, “I didn’t see anything,” she said, “anyone see something?”
No one had.
“Great,” said Leo. “Invisible monsters.”
“Or venti,” Jason supplied. That didn’t help the mood.
“Well,” said Sam, grabbing her back pack, “unless we can turn this thing over and get it started again, I suggest we head out on foot.”
Annabeth nodded, “we’re only a few miles from camp.”
After some scrambling, they were able to open the doors and spill out onto the pavement. The van was totaled (whoops, sorry rental company) and all of them felt like they had been hit by thousands of hammers, but they were alive, and there were no storm spirits in sight.
Annabeth gestured for everyone to follow and they ended up jogging at a reasonable pace through long island.
After about a mile of this, they all were starting to get anxious. Jason and Mallory had their weapons drawn but nothing attacked them. Magnus noticed how Annabeth kept glancing to the left and right.
“Look!” said Jason. Magnus looked where he was pointing. Off to the side of the road, at the end of some wayward tire marks, was a black van that looked just like theirs.
Magnus ran up and looked inside the widow. The van was empty.
“They aren’t in there,” said Magnus as he ran back to the group. “No bags or jackets either, they left.”
Leo nodded, “There’s a flat tire, they must have headed out on foot.”
“Then they must not be far ahead of us,” said Annabeth. “Come on, we’re less than half a mile away.”
Annabeth turn around and let out a stifled scream. Magnus didn’t blame her, standing in the middle of the road was a tall, dark haired, terrifying looking woman who had not been there a second before.
Jason lifted his sword and charged at the woman but before he took his second step the girl lifted her hand and a wave of ice shot over Magnus and his friends.
It was cold. Like really cold. It could not have lasted more than a few seconds but it felt like a lifetime. All Magnus could think about was his time on Niflhiem, the ice planet. He knew what freezing to death felt like; it felt like that. Magnus concentrated on warm thoughts. He was the son of Frey; he could avoid getting burned or frozen if he wanted to.
The cold stopped and Magnus looked around. Evil Elsa was standing right where she was before the freeze. All of Magnus’s friends were incased in solid blocks of ice.
All except Leo. Leo’s arms were ablaze and he looked very wet. He must have been able to melt the ice before it knocked him unconscious.
Evil Elsa smile at Leo.
“Leo,” she said. “It’s nice to see you again.”
“Really?” asked Leo, “I assumed because the last few failures would be enough for you to take the hint.”
Evil Elsa scowled and the air turned even colder. Leo’s flame died slightly but then regained its heat.
The girl turned to look at Magnus. She looked at him with a confused and disgusted expression that one has when finding a dead rat in their kitchen. Magnus was used to people having this expression and decided to ignore it.
“You must be Khione,” said Magnus. He gave a small wave, “I’m Magnus.”
Khione said nothing, she just glared at Magnus and, faster than Magnus could react, created a sharp and wicked looking icicle and threw it toward Magnus.
He was positive he was dead. He couldn’t move, either out of terror or exhaustion from all the power he had just spent to stop himself from freezing. The icicle hit him in the chest. However, instead of it impaling him and making him a Magnus cab bob, the icicle rammed into him like a mallet and sent him sprawling a few feet away with the wind knocked out of him.
Magnus wheezed and tried to refocus on the scene. Leo was on his knees, his legs encased in ice. And Khione stood above him, a cruel smile on her face.
Realization struck Magnus. Leo must have used his fire to melt the tip on the icicle and dull it. In return Khione had been able to catch him off guard.
Khione looked down at Leo and gave him a cruel smile. She seemed to suck the heat out of every situation. Magnus could not help but be disgusted by her. No wonder her and Leo didn’t get along, based on their powers alone they probably got together like… well, fire and ice.
“Oh,” said Khione regretfully, “I would simply love to kill you now. Unfortunately, you’re spoken for.”
She looked around at the group. “No Piper, pity, I wanted her head as a souvenir. But I guess I can settle for Jason Grace.”
Leo’s breath was turning shallow. The ice was creeping up his arms and spine and his face was turning pale. He was having trouble staying awake. Magnus was afraid he was going to go into another coma. Khione needed him alive to give to Loki, but something told Magnus she didn’t care what condition he was in when he got there.
“The rest, of course,” Khione continued, “will succumb to the cold in a few more minutes.”
Magnus’s heart leapt into his throat. He was able to rise to his knees and looked at Sam and Mallory, who he had been to the end of the world and back with, and Annabeth, the only family he had left. He glanced at Leo, his newest friend who was about to go through a horrible experience. Suddenly, Magnus got angry.
Now, Magnus didn’t usually get angry, at least not in the conventional sense. He could find something unfair or morally wrong, but he never really got angry about it. But at that moment, all Magnus could think about was how furious he was at Loki, at this girl Khione, at the gods, at himself. Struggling, he stood and turned to Khione.
“Leave them alone,” he said in a horse whisper.
Khione let out a single laugh but then stopped. Magnus clenched his fists, he hadn’t felt like this since on his sixtieth birthday, facing Surt. He focused on happy memories. Times with Sam and his friends from floor 19, times with Blitzen and Hearthstone when they lived on the street, a day ago in the Chase Space, when Alex asked him to be her boyfriend.
The world started to get brighter and Khione went from a cold sneer to a look of panic. The light grew brighter and brighter until he could no longer see Khione. Then it faded, and Magnus was vaguely aware of someone coughing. Then the world went dark as Magnus fell unconscious.
Magnus woke to someone force feeding him some sort of liquid. He coughed and turned his head which wasn’t a great idea since now the liquid was all over his shirt.
“Great job, idiot,” said a voice.
Magnus focused on his surroundings. He was lying on a bed in a bare room. Mulling around the room were his friends from floor 19, Annabeth, Percy, Leo, Jason, Hazel, Frank, Piper, and a few people Magnus had never met before including a Goth boy, a boy with blonde hair, a terrifying mountain of a girl, and a man in a wheelchair. Leaning over him, was Alex Fierro.
“Where are we?” asked Magnus sitting up slightly.
“The big house in Camp Half-Blood,” said Annabeth. “This is Chiron, Clarisse, Will, and Nico.” Pointing to each person that Magnus did not know.
“Hi,” said Magnus lamely. “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for you all probably saving my life but, uh…what?”
Alex snorted and everyone else in the room seemed to clam down a bit, so Magnus took his stupid comment as a win.
“Dude,” said Leo, “you became the sun.”
Piper hit him softly on the back of the head and Hazel gave him a ‘gods you’re so stupid’ look.
“What?” asked Sam.
“Yeah, what?” asked Magnus laughing.
“I’m not kidding!” said Leo. “You stood up, you said something to Khione, and then you started to glow, and you just kept getting really really reeeaaally bright and hot and then it stopped and there was no more ice or Khione and the snow on the ground within, like, twenty feet was all melted and then you passed out and didn’t wake up again.” Leo took a breath, which was good because Magnus was afraid he was going to pass out.
Annabeth looked just as scared as Leo. “I didn’t have any ambrosia on me,” she said, “when you didn’t wake up … it was hard to get you to the camp line.”
Magnus felt himself go red at the prospect of the group trying to lug his unconscious self through Long Island.
“But we made it.” Magnus used his great skills of deduction to notice that since everyone was alive and in a house they were probably over the magical barriers surrounding the camp.
“Barely,” said Mallory. “Loki’s wolves would have caught us if Alex and Frank hadn’t come to the rescue.”
Alex nodded, “turns out dragons are very useful in a crisis,” she informed Magnus. “Plus, Nordic dragons breathe fire, which is an interesting experience.”
Magnus tried to imagine Alex in dragon form shooting fire at her enemies, suddenly he was glad he was unconscious so he didn’t wet himself or make a bad pun out of it.
“Well that’s… fun,” he offered.
The man in the wheelchair, Chiron, wheeled forward slightly and held out his hand to Magnus. “Well it is nice to meet you,” he said.
The boy with blonde hair – Will – chimed in. “We’ve had a brief introduction with everyone else but Annabeth hasn’t told us much about you, your name is Mangus?”
“No Magnus,” he said. On autopilot, he said, with total confidence, “rhymes with swagness”
“I’m breaking up with you,” Alex joked. Meanwhile Leo was dying of laughter in the background.
Magnus had managed to lighten the mode a bit more since he woke up, which he took as another win.
Before they could talk about anything else a boy scrambled into the room. A nervous cloud seemed to surround the guy and Magnus was taken aback when he saw that from the waste down he was covered in fur and had hooves.
“Problem,” said the creature as he entered the room.
“What is it Grover?” asked Chiron.
“Three more kids got into camp – they’re fine!” he said picking up on the nervous faces, “but there seems to be something else out there.”
The group groaned.
“What is it?” Asked Nico.
“They didn’t get a close enough look,” said Grover, “only that it was some huge creature. Much bigger than the wolves but had a similar structure.”
“We should send out a group to figure out what it is,” said Jason, “now that we know these things are only trying to get at Leo and not every half-blood we have a bit more breathing room, might as well figure out what we’re up against.”
The group nodded, “We should make the group as small as possible,” said Sam, “one Norse Demigod and one Greek/Roman? That way we’re more likely to be able to recognize the thing.”
“I’ll go,” said Hazel. “I think who ever we’re fighting might be using the mist as well as monsters to keep us in here and I want to check it out.”
“I’ll go too!” said TJ excitedly.
“No!” shouted every Norse Demigod in the room.
“If you think we’re letting you wander off without supervision when you’ve decided to completely derail,” said Alex, “then you’re insane. I’ll go.”
Everyone nodded, a shape shifter was probably the best course of action and no one had doubts that Alex and Hazel could take care of themselves. Hazel, however, didn’t look very happy, but Magnus decided to pretend he didn’t notice.
Alex and Hazel made their way to the camps boarder to look for a monster. Alex had walked up to Magnus before she left. He was going to come up with some big speech about wishing her safety and probably confess his love to her again but she stopped him before he could.
“Just tell me not to die and save the cliché for another time,” she said.
“Don’t die,” he said.
“I won’t.” Then she kissed him and the gloomy storm clouds seemed a lot brighter after that.
Or he could just be becoming the sun again, apparently he was prone to do that.
The large group that had come from Boston walked through the camp to the cabins. Magnus couldn’t help but be amazed by Camp Half Blood. Everywhere he turned, there was a new activity: archery, swordplay, Pegasus riding, a rock wall with lava for extra thrill. Even Magnus, who wasn’t into fighting like his friends were, was very intrigued by everything around them. There was no snow on the ground and it wasn’t as cold as it was outside
“After the Titian war,” Annabeth explained, “we made a bunch of new cabins so all of the new Demigods that came in would have space. We also made a cabin for Hestia, even though she doesn’t have any children, because she is goddess of home and family and we figured she’d be cool with visitors staying in her house. So you guys can sleep there.”
She led the group into the circle of houses where the campers slept. Immediately someone shouted to get their attention.
Magnus turned to see a young boy racing toward them at full speed. Leo bent down and hugged the boy, who was beaming like Christmas had come early.
“Hey Harley!” said Leo, “been holding down the fort while I’ve been away?”
“Yup!” said the boy excitedly, “We didn’t know you were back!” Harley grabbed Leo’s hand and started pulling towards the opposite end of the circle, “Come on! Come on! Almost everyone’s here because of the wolves!”
Harley made it sound as though there could be nothing better than being attacked by wolves if it meant everyone could come to camp. Leo looked back at the group with a ‘what can you do?’ sort of look on his face and then got dragged away towards a cabin made of bricks and carved metal in the distance.
“Aw,” said Sam, and that about summed it up.
Magnus watched them go. There was so much at stake if Leo was taken by Loki. Whatever Loki’s plan was, they couldn’t let it work, but seeing that little boy’s face suddenly made the urgency to stop Loki all the more real.
Annabeth led them up to a cabin with clean white walls with a light brown roof. Compared to all the other cabins, this one looked pretty lame. It had few decorations and didn’t stand out in any way. Still, Magnus thought, there was something very comforting about it.
Annabeth opened the door showed them around the cabin. There was a fire in the middle of the floor that did not seem to let off any smoke. The beds were clean and already made. All in all, it was not a bad place to be.
“Piper and I should go see our siblings,” Annabeth said. She sounded excited which Magnus found adorable. He wished he knew other children of Frey so he could have happy sibling fun times. They would probably be hippy little annoyances anyway.
And what are you exactly? Asked a voice in his head, probably Jack.
“Percy, Jason, and Frank,” Annabeth continued, “are going on guard duty.”
“We can help if –” Sam started.
“Actually,” said Percy, “even though this place might seem professional, in reality it’s still a camp full of teenagers and –”
“And you don’t want to much gossip about who the new people are?” Sam finished.
“Dinner will be in an hour or so,” said Percy, “Chiron will explain everything then.”
Percy shuffled and looked at the group. He must have been afraid of hurting their feelings but Magnus knew better. Vikings didn’t do guard duty very well, they did it when they had to but they preferred a straight up fight instead of waiting around for the fun to start. Magnus was confident his friends were actually relieved to be excused from that particular chore.
“It’s cool,” Magnus assured Percy, “we’ll see you at dinner?”
Percy smiled. “yeah see you then.”
Annabeth hugged Magnus, which usually Magnus wouldn’t have liked because he was iffy about physical contact, but he was just so relieved that everyone was alive and him and Annabeth were in the same state that he let it slide.
When they had left, Magnus turned to look at the Hestia cabin. His friends were stretching out on beds and relaxing. Chatting about glorious death in battle and gossiping about who killed who at lunch this week. It didn’t feel the same without Alex, he wished she was here. Part of him wondered if she had volunteered to hunt down whatever was out there to get away from him. Magnus shook the thought from his brain.
Alex wouldn’t do that, he told himself.
Magnus sighed to himself. He hoped she would hurry up and get back.
Alex regretted volunteering a few minutes into the search. Walking down a hill a bit off from the main entrance, she could see Hazel shoot glances at her every few seconds. Alex sighed slightly. This was going to be an unbearable day.
They stayed close to the camp. They walked a few steps out from the the boundaries of camp, then turned left and started to walk the boarder. They figured the wolves would know they weren’t trying to leave and leave them alone (they didn’t have the numbers they used so they probably would be told to stand down). Whatever else was out there wouldn’t have those restrictions. In other words, they were using themselves as bait. Alex tried to start a conversation. It failed spectacularly:
“So…” she said, “you Romans are planners. What’s your plan once we find the thing?”
“Stay out of sight if possible,” she said. “And hope we can identify it.”
“What if we can’t?”
Hazel shrugged her shoulders and tried to look confident, “Well, new challenges are always exciting.”
That phrase was so ridicules it stopped all further conversation.
Alex and Hazel walked around the camp in silence for what felt like centuries, but Alex’s watch claimed that it was only a half an hour. Finally, they came upon a tree that seemed to have bee torn out of the ground by the roots and all and then ripped in half.
“Whatever did that,” Hazel whispered, “I don’t want to meet.”
Alex stopped herself from asking “then why did you come?” and instead walked down the hill to the tree and crouched next to the roots. She scanned the upturned dirt for any footprints. Anything she could use to figure out what this monster was.
Hazel leisurely walked around the base of the tree unhelpfully and then stopped a few feet in front of Alex.
“So,” said Hazel. That was it. She didn’t say anything else. Alex bit her lip to stop herself from screaming.
“So?” said Alex, keeping her voice as calm as possible.
“So… I’m sorry… What is it called again? The whole one gender one day and another one the next.”
Alex looked at Hazel. She was staring at her own feet and wringing her hands.
“I’m transgender and gender fluid,” Alex said blatantly. She didn’t look up at Hazel.
“Right,” said Hazel, “and what does that mean exactly?”
Alex looked at Hazel. Why was she asking so many questions now of all times? She wasn’t in the mood.
“Sorry,” said Hazel. “I just want to understand you.”
“You don’t have to understand me,” said Alex, straightening up, “I’m not asking you to understand. I’m just asking for some respect.”
“I respect you,” Hazel assured her.
“Good” she supplied and continued down the slope to the top of the tree.
She was about to drop down to inspect the rip but Hazel called after her again.
“But I also need to understand you”
Alex sighed and turned to face Hazel. She raised her eyebrows and said nothing. Hazel took a deep breath and started talking with a bit of anger in her voice.
“I have fought monsters straight out of the depths of hell, I have crossed the world, I have risen from the dead and yet in all of my experiences I have never met anything like you. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I’m not saying I can’t adjust, I’m saying that it is new. And I ask you, here in the middle of the godsdamned forest, to explain it to me so I can understand and I can show my respect, and you completely cast my questions aside. And you stand there with your green hair and your striking personality and your bright pink shirt with a picture of a butt that’s flipping me off and I have absolutely no idea how to act. I’m asking questions because I need to understand. Because if I don’t my brain will burst with trying to hold them in.”
Hazel stopped and looked at Alex. Alex took a step back wards and straightened out a bit. Who knew this girl from the early 1900’s could have an outburst like a pro?
“I’m sorry,” said Hazel. “I must have missed the years when this is taught.” She paused again, looking pleadingly at Alex, “I don’t even know what gender fluid means.”
Alex stared at Hazel for a long time. “Well done,” she said, “grade A rant.”
“Um, thanks,” said Hazel, obviously not sure how to take that compliment.
Alex stared at Hazel for a while, then she pulled up her hair and showed Hazel the tattoo on the base of her neck.
“That symbol,” Alex explained, “is the symbol of change and fluidity. It represents constant movement.” She paused and then continued. “That’s what I am, I’m always changing. Sometimes I am and guy and sometimes I’m a girl. I can’t control when I’m one or the other, and I can’t control when my gender changes. All I know is that there is a big difference between the body someone is born with and the gender someone experiences and more times then you think, those two things don’t line up right.” She paused, forming her words, and then continued, “You didn’t miss anything, this isn’t taught. At least, not as much as it should be. And, trust me when I tell you, you have met someone like me before, they just kept it a secret. Whether they were gender fluid like me or transgender, you’ve met them, there are more of us out there than you might think. As for my hair and my choice of wardrobe-- that’s just me.”
Hazel stared at Alex’s feet. Alex was a little afraid that she wasn’t going to understand.
“I know people who are transgender,” Hazel said at last. She sounded almost ashamed. Ashamed of her outburst. “There are a bunch at Camp Jupiter, and a few at Camp Half-Blood. I’ve just… I’ve only ever met them after they insist on people calling them the right gender, I’ve never had to wrap my head around a person being one gender one day and another the next.”
“Well, new challenges are always exciting,” Alex mocked.
“You know what?” said Hazel, rolling her eyes, “It’s not the gender thing that confuses me. It’s your personality.”
“Don’t worry, it confuses everybody else too.”
“Yeah… well about your shirt.”
“What about my shirt?”
“Do we really need a private part and a rude gesture all tied up in one?”
“’Private part’? ‘Rude gesture’? Oh my gods someone has got to teach you how to be a teenager in the twenty-first century.”
Then both of them were laughing.
They continued walking down a small hill, following a path of destruction that led slightly away from the camp. Conversation came forth more easily after that. They talked about life in the twenty-first century. Everything was going great until Alex heard a growl from behind a downed tree.
Stupid. She was so stupid. What did they expect to be out there? Why hadn’t they thought this through? She didn’t know, all she knew was that Hazel and her now stood face to face with a wolf the size of a stallion. Garmr, the immortal guard dog of Helium.
They were too far from camp. They would never make it back. Alex took out her garrote and Hazel took out her sword. This could only end in a fight. Garmr’s eyes glowed red and its teeth seemed darker than its fur. Before Alex could make a move, it lunged.
Alex ducked underneath the monster and was able to avoid its teeth. Hazel lunged forward with her sword and struck Garmr between the eyes with an astonishing amount of force. It should have cut the beast in two, but instead the force sent Hazels sword flying out of her hand and she stumbled backwards, clutching her wrist.
Alex regained her footing and set her jaw. There was no way she was getting killed by another wolf sent by her mother. She whipped her garrote around the beast’s neck and, using all of her Einherji strength, pulled the beast towards her and onto the ground.
She was feeling pretty cocky, until the beast merely shook free and stood to face her instead. Garmr planted its feet in the dirt, took a breath, and howled at Alex. The air seemed to break into shards around her. She lost her grip on reality as the noise over took her senses. Suddenly, Alex’s vision blurred, the world turned sideways, and the last thing she remembered was Hazel lunging between her and the monster with her hands in the air. Then, the world went dark as Alex fell unconscious.
“Falling asleep during battle is not the most glamorous way to die.”
Alex focused on her dream. She was in a brightly lit room with many windows. It seemed to be some sort of penthouse, overlooking a busy city below. The furniture was spotless white and modern art hung on the walls. Sitting in a decorative chair that was more like a throne, was her mother.
“Although,” he said, “you’ve never really cared about style, have you?” Loki looked at Alex’s shirt with disapproval.
Alex set her jaw and said nothing. She had a policy never to speak when Loki entered her dreams. It was just what he wanted.
“Bold move,” Loki said, pretending not to notice Alex’s lack of argument, “going to the Greek camp, I didn’t think you had it in you. Of course, since your death there is a serious argument that you have gone soft, so I figured the poor, injured son of Hermes would get you there.”
Alex clenched her fists and bit back a list of things she wanted to scream that would make Hazel wash her mouth out with soap.
“Alex please, sit, have a soda, we’ve got plenty of time.”
Alex stayed standing. She tried to do a countdown in her head. It was a method of helping people wake up from lucid dreams. It didn’t work. Figures.
“You know. A few days in a walnut really gives you time to think and I’m pretty sure I know where I went wrong last summer.”
Alex said nothing.
“I went wrong,” Loki continued with complete confidence, “when I stopped playing offence. Playing defense just gives your friends time to strategize. It is so much easier when you’re all on the clock. Giving you time last year to gather a plan was sloppy of me. When ‘innocent lives’ are in immediate danger, you’re all victims to your own purity of character. So simple, the oldest trick in the book. No one can fight me when they’re also fighting their own moral values. You are all slaves to the ‘good’ inside you.”
“I’m not.” Alex almost kicked herself. Why did she have to open her mouth?
“Aren’t you? I don’t need to worry about you anymore Alex. Do you know why? Because you lost your danger the minute you gained your heart. I have already won Alex. I won yesterday at three thirty-two pm. The minute you made the trade that doomed the world.”
Loki smiled wickedly at Alex. Her heart was pounding. She knew exactly what he meant, she had been thinking the same thing all day. He was right, too. He was always right.
“I would love to spend more time watching your fluster,” said Loki, “but I have business, and so do you.”
The room faded and swirled into an evening sky and the face of Hazel Levesque.
“Oh thank the gods,” said Hazel.
Alex looked felt she had been hit in the head with a sledge hammer. Her eyes wouldn’t focus and she promptly turned onto her stomach and threw up on the ground.
“Have you ever read Harry Potter?” asked Hazel.
That helped Alex grasp reality. Harry Potter? Was now really the time for a pop culture lesson? Alex could hear Garmr growling to her left, though it sounded blocked by something…
“Wha--?” Alex managed.
“Harry. Potter.” Hazel repeated slowly, as though thinking Alex didn’t recognize the name.
“Um… Yeah.” Alex still had her head in the ground next to her own vomit. Why were they talking about wizards? She could barely focus on her own breathing, much less fiction books.
“You know that part where Harry has to run through that wall to Platform 9 and ¾?”
“I vaguely recall,” groaned Alex from the dirt. She liked the smell of dirt, it cleared her head a bit. Although, the vomit wasn’t helping.
“Okay,” said Hazel, her voice filled with… relief? “That’s what we’re going to do. It’s just like platform 9 and ¾.”
That got Alex to raise her head and look around. What she saw didn’t help her disoriented head. From the growls, Garmr was somewhere to her left, a few feet from where she was. Based on the ground and the patches of snow around her, they were still in the woods, but on all sides of them, only four feet away on either side, were twelve-foot tall, solid brick walls with no doors or openings. Alex was pretty sure they hadn’t been there before.
“What the hell?” she said, getting to her knees in an attempt to stand.
“Come on,” said Hazel, “no time to explain. Camp is that way,” pointing to the right, “If we run we might get there.”
“But… there are walls.” Then Alex realized why they had been talking about Harry Potter. “You want me to just run through them?”
“Because I’m not a wizard.”
“The walls aren’t real,” Hazel told her, helping her to her feet. “They’re just the Mist.”
The walls didn’t look like mist. They looked like walls. But wasn’t Mist the word Greek demigods use for Glamour? Alex’s head was spinning. Could you walk through walls that were made only of Glamour? She had never tried.
In any case she was about to find out. Hazel grabbed her hand (she is not a fan of touching but with Hazel it seemed fine) and she dragged Alex to the right side wall at full speed. Alex didn’t have time to scream before they were suddenly on the other side of the wall. Garmr lunged around the small shelter of brick and ran towards them. Hazel lifted her hand and another wall appeared in front of them This time Alex didn’t hesitate, she jumped through the wall and appeared on the other side. A loud yelp came from behind them. Garmr had hit the wall full speed.
Together, Hazel and Alex raced through the woods. Every once in a while Hazel put up another wall, but the effort of each seemed to drain her. After a few minutes, Alex was practically carrying her.
Alex kept running. The walls didn’t frighten her anymore. When one popped up, Alex ran right through it without hesitation. Soon enough, she saw the boarder of Camp Half Blood.
Percy had told her that the camp’s boarders kept out monsters and mortals but let Half Bloods and gods in. Did Garmr count as a monster or a god? Who decided? Did the pine tree decide? Apparently the Half Bloods on guard duty had the same thought process because just then alarms started to blare and many campers gathered with a variety of weapons.
They were one hundred yards from the barrier when Hazel collapsed.
Alex grabbed Hazel under the arms and started to drag her towards camp as fast as she could. Even with Alex’s Einherji upgrade, she was too weak from Garmr’s howl of doom to carry Hazel across the boarder before they were overrun.
Stumbling backwards and dragging Hazel across the forest floor, Alex stole a glance at the wolf bounding toward them. It was closing in; a few more seconds it would be upon them. Alex tried to change form into something bigger, maybe she could fight Garmr long enough to get help. But her brain was too scattered, she couldn’t focus on an animal. Alex slipped on a patch of snow and fell on her butt. She watched, eyes wide, as Garmr closed the last few feet.
As the monster reached an arm’s length away, a lion and a dragon leapt over Alex’s head and clashed with the monster.
Weird part was, Alex recognized the lion. Sam fought the wolf in lion form while Frank must have been the dragon. The three animals scratched and bit at one another in a frenzy. They came dangerously close to Hazel and Alex on the ground but now that Alex was on the ground, she couldn’t move. Her muscles shut down and she lay in the snow with Hazel, fighting to stay conscious.
The wolf threw Frank into a tree. Sam climbed up onto the beast’s back and latched on with her claws. Alex watched as Garmr jumped and rolled in an attempt to detach the lion clinging too its back.
Somehow, Sam was able to keep the wolf away from Alex and Hazel. Frank was back in human form and was lying unconscious on the ground.
Sam jumped off from the wolf’s back and landed on the ground between Garmr and Alex and Hazel. Alex tried to call out to her sister but she couldn’t get her voice to work. It didn’t matter, Sam realized her mistake the minute she made it.
Garmr was able to get a running start and rammed into Sam with enough force to level a mountain. Sam went sprawling, landing behind Alex and Hazel over the border of camp.
Before Garmr could rip Hazel and Alex apart, a golden flash of light flew over their heads and struck the wolf between the eyes. Alex’s eyes adjusted enough to focus on the golden light as it streaked through the sky.
Jack, she thought.
Just as she realized this, someone grabbed Alex. Magnus lifted her into his arms and ran over the boarder of camp, Garmr snapping at Jack in the background. Magnus put her down on the ground. Jason Grace laid Hazel down next to her.
Alex shook herself off and got to her knees. Magnus carrying her over the camp line like a blond price charming was too much for her and she wanted to stand up and shake off the cliché.
Of course, the moment she did the world started to spin again and she fell forward onto her hands. She heard T.J. shout to Magnus.
“Get him to look up!” he said.
Alex heard Magnus give a shrill whistle. She looked up at the chaos. TJ was standing on a rock above the crowd, trying to get a good shot at Garmr. Frank and Sam were both on their feet but they looked shaken. Campers ran to the fight and shot arrows and threw spears. This only made Garmr annoyed. The wolf snapped at the campers around his feet and slowly inched forward, the camp’s magical boarder only seemed to slow Garmr down. The monster was already half inside. The only thing keeping Garmr from killing the campers who were caught by surprise at the beast’s ability to enter the camp was Jack. He swerved around the monster’s head, but when Magnus whistled, Jack zoomed around to where Magnus was standing.
Alex bit her lip. She had seen Magnus and Jack do this trick before. It would be the first time they did it outside of Valhalla. Jack had killed Magnus many times, after which Jack had needed several hours of therapy before they were ready to try again. Jack claimed it was one of the most powerful moves Magnus could do with Jack, but if Jack killed Magnus outside of Valhalla, he wouldn’t regenerate.
Magnus jumped and launched himself off of a tree like a springboard. He launched through the air, flipping around headfirst in a way only an Einherji could do. Jack whirled around as Magnus flipped so his feet pointed down and he started to fall toward the ground. Jack flew under Magnus and Magnus planted his feet on the flat of Jacks blade, using Jack as a springboard and launching himself at least twenty feet into the air. Jack flew up and landed in Magnus’s hand. With the force of twenty feet’s worth of velocity, Magnus plunged Jack into the back of the top of Garmr’s neck.
Garmr howled and looked up at the sky. Magnus pulled down on Jack to get Garmr to look even higher. That’s when Alex noticed the bald spot on the wolfs chest, near it’s front leg.
T.J. saw it too. He jumped forward, and in the air, he threw his gun like a spear, it’s bayonet zooming towards Garmr. It struck the wolf in the chest and buried itself inside.
Garmr yelped and threw Magnus off it’s back. It rolled around and somehow dislodged T.J.’s gun from it’s stomach. The wolf quickly got to it’s feet and scampered away, barking as it went. People started to cheer, but the barking was too much for Alex’s head and she quickly fell unconscious.
Hey everybody, sorry this chapter is late. I had a conflict. I'm on April break now though, so I should be able to write more. Hope you guys like it :)
Nico needed real life to have a pause button. A few hours ago, he hadn’t even known Annabeth had a cousin. Now there were Norse demigods, giant wolves, and dead Civil War vets throwing muskets like spears.
Nico had summoned dead Civil War vets before. He wasn’t a stranger to the dead, what scared him was how alive they were. Nico could feel that their time had past. He could tell they weren’t supposed to be among the living. They had had their lives and now they were over, but they were also very lively. They weren’t just alive; they were healthy – too healthy. They were super human. It made Nico dizzy.
Campers were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Will had his little medic box out and was stitching up Frank’s leg while Frank sipped ambrosia. Poor guy, Hazel had told him about Frank’s bad experiences with this wolf.
Nico walked over and knelt down next to his sister. She was unconscious but it was probably because she had worn herself out. Nothing seemed broken or out of place. Working with Will in the med-tent had given Nico a good sense of these things.
“Nice spring board,” Nico overheard the dead Civil War guy say.
He looked up and saw the boy standing over Annabeth’s cousin. Her cousin was on his hands and knees, breathing heavy.
“Thanks,” he said, taking the hand the boy offered. His flying sword was gone and he looked like a normal kid. With his blonde hair and lanky stature, he looked a bit like Will. But no one really looked like Will.
He felt a familiar hand on his shoulder.
“How is she?” asked Will as he used Nico’s shoulder to help him to his knees. Nico looked at Will in concern. He was a teenager moving like he was a retired old man.
“She’s just worn herself out,” Nico told him. “I’m more worried about you.”
Will smiled. “Aw, looking out for me like the loving boyfriend you are?”
“Just rather you not keel over in the middle of surgery.”
Will shined a flashlight in Hazel’s eye and measured out some nectar. He handed the cup to Nico and looked at the girl next to Hazel.
Nico lifted Hazel’s head and started pouring the nectar down her throat. Will leaned over the other girl – Alex. Nico felt awkward around Alex, probably because she was wearing neon pink and green and Nico was…well… not.
Others started to gather around them. Frank knelt down next to Nico. The big softy grabbed Hazel’s hand and frowned like he was sitting by her hospital bed. Percy and Jason also came by their side, along with the three Norse demigods.
Hazel coughed and woke after the last drops of nectar were finished.
“Wha—?” she said.
“You’re in camp,” Nico replied. “The wolf’s gone.”
She grunted in reply and sat up slightly. She still held Frank’s hand.
The three Norse demigods knelt next to Alex.
“Is she going to be okay?” asked the Civil War guy.
“She’ll be fine,” Will replied. “She doesn’t have any physical injuries and I’m not exactly sure what happened.”
“The wolf barked in her face,” Hazel explained.
Jason nodded, “That happened to Leo. It knocks you out pretty good.”
Will simply nodded as if he saw Super-Wolf-Bark-Casualties every day. He started to pour some more nectar.
“Wait,” the girl with the hijab said to Will.
Will looked up at her.
“Sorry,” she said. “It’s just… What does that do exactly?”
Will gave her a confused look. She hadn’t objected when they had given nectar to Annabeth’s cousin.
“It fixes demigods.”
“I know but how?”
Will smiled slightly. “You know what? I’ve never been asked before. I think it strengthens your godly side. Makes you a little more of a god so you can heal yourself.”
The girl nodded. “Don’t give it to her.”
Frank looked up. “What?”
Annabeth’s cousin nodded vigorously, “Yeah she doesn’t need her godly side strengthened.”
They looked at the Norse demigods until the girl explained.
“Me and Alex have the same godly parent. Loki. He’s… He’s not nice. When his children use the gifts that he gave them… He demands a type of payment. He… gets control over us. I’m just worried strengthening that part of Alex will give him more control.”
“He takes control of you?” asked Jason, going pale.
Nico tried to comprehend that. Every time he shadow traveled, or raised the dead, his father could do… what? Make him do the dishes? Or was it more serious? Could Hades make Nico do things he he would rather die than do? Could he make him kill someone? A cold shiver went down his spine. Could he make him kill Will? Nico shook himself out of it. Hades wasn’t father of the year but he would never do that.
Will put down the nectar.
“Okay,” he said awkwardly. He took some mortal medicine out of his kit.
Hazel slowly got to her feet and looked around. Nico followed her gaze. Half of the camp was acting as though nothing had gone wrong. They probably didn’t know what had happened.
Will slowly roused Alex. When she finally came to she shook herself off and claimed she was fine.
Horns blared off in the center of camp.
“Dinner,” said Percy. “Everyone okay to come and eat?”
Alex claimed she was. She and the girl with the hijab went to find Alex a change of clothes because hers were wet and muddy from falling. Hazel grabbed Nico’s hand and led him towards the dinning hall.
“No sitting at the Apollo table,” she ordered. “You have to hang out with family today.”
Nico smiled. Even though all this was happening, he was glad she was here.
Hazel’s “family dinner” was more like “children-of-the-Big-Three-plus-six-Norse-half-bloods-and-Frank” dinner. The Big Three table has never been so crowded. Nico was tucked in-between Hazel and Jason, looking out at a very peculiar group.
Once the two Norse half-bloods who weren’t at the fight at the boarder were caught up on the story (a large boy with a large beard and a short red haired girl) they started grumbling about missing “the fun”. That was the time when Nico decided he hated them.
But they didn’t have to worry, Nico silently hates a lot of people.
“So Nico,” said Percy.
Aw they were ignoring me so wonderfully, thought Nico.
Percy introduced Nico to all of the Norse demigods. Nico conjured up a small smile and then stopped because it hurt his face.
“Who’s your godly parent?” asked Annabeth’s cousin Magnus.
“Hades,” said Nico. “god of death and darkness and shit.”
Magnus laughed. “My dad is Frey,” he said, “god of life and sunshine and shit.”
“Wow,” said Jason, “you guys are going to get along great.”
Suddenly Nico was smiling for real. Everyone was laughing and any tension still at the table broke.
“So,” said Nico, “I know I’ve already asked this but: how are you guys dead?”
Sam lifted two fingers, “I’m not dead, and I have no plans on dying for a very long time.”
“Well,” said Magnus, “none of us really planned on dying.”
Sam gave him a menacing look which he smiled at.
“In Norse mythology,” Alex cut in, “there are a lot of afterlifes.”
Alex took a French fry from Hazel’s plate and popped in in her mouth. Hazel simply smiled. Did they… become friends? In a few hours? How…? Nico decided not to dwell on it.
Alex continued: “One afterlife, for the ‘honorable dead’,” she used air quotes and rolled her eyes at that phrase, “Is called Valhalla. When you die, they split you up into groups based on age. There’s the kids group, where we come from—”
“Ages twelve to twenty-one” supplied the boy in the Civil War jacket named Thomas Jefferson.
“Yeah,” said Alex, “Then there’s a group for adults and a group for the elderly.”
“So you guys grow up,” said Frank, “And you change groups.”
Magnus shook his head. “No the groups are based on the age you were when you died. You stay that age until Ragnarok, the end of the world.”
“That’s when we all storm out of Valhalla into battle and die again as part of Odin’s army,” said Mallory.
“We spend our time training for that day,” said Thomas Jefferson.
“And trying to postpone it for as long as possible,” said Magnus.
“You stay the same age forever?” asked Hazel.
“Yup,” said Magnus, “but we get an upgrade. No puberty or anything like that. And we’re a lot stronger and faster than we were.”
“T.J here died in the Civil war,” said Sam. “And Half Born died during the first trips the Vikings took to America.”
“And you are allowed to stay in contact with the world of the living?” asked Nico. That was definitely not how it worked under his father’s rule. Nico wished it did. Then he could still see Bianca.
“As a thank you for saving the world we’re allowed to leave every once in a while,” said Magnus. “But technically I shouldn’t be in contact with Annabeth. Talking to people you knew in life is a big no-no.”
Nico considered that. He doubted it could be like that in Greek mythology. There was rebirth, but that wasn’t the same. Nico hated rebirth. When you came back for the third time and got to live life on the Isles of the Blest, Nico had seen people struggle. They could have come back and remembered three different soul mates. Three different sets of parents. Many had trouble choosing who to spend eternity with. Many just decided to let them all go and spend eternity alone or meeting new souls.
Nico glanced over at Will at the Apollo table. Nico spent a lot of time thinking about death. But most of the time he thought about losing Will in the afterlife. To stop loving him. Looking over at Will didn’t help his mood. Will looked like he was about to collapse. He was too tired from all the work he had been doing. Nico watched as Will moved food around on his plate, blue eyes staring down at it distastefully.
Nico’s thought process was broken by Chiron banged his hooves on the floor to get everyone’s attention.
“Wow,” he heard Magnus whisper. The Norse half bloods had never seen Chiron in centaur mode before.
“I have a few announcements,” said Chiron. “First, we have some guests at camp with us. Some Norse demigods from Boston are here to help us with our wolf problem.”
The people in the dinning hall started talking all at once. Norse demigods? Nico heard, as well as are the wolves Norse too? Nico felt bad for the people in camp. They had to live through the battle-then-make-up-then-war-with-Gaia fiasco that took place in the camp just a year before. Now they had to add Norse demigods into the equation.
“Second,” Chiron said over the chatter, making it quiet immediately, “it has become clear to us that the wolves are trying to keep us in camp, but are no danger to us here. Therefore, everyone must stay in camp until we can figure this out.”
Another outburst of chatter erupted, someone from the Nike table shouted “Chiron I have a math final on Monday!”
“I will contact teachers if you need me to. For now, we should just stay safe.”
There was a bit of grumbling, but also an underlying excitement. The camp was never all together anymore. A lot of kids went to New Rome or summer programs. Siblings were able to actually spend time together now. Which was why Annabeth, Piper, and Leo were sitting at their parent table instead of with them.
Chiron moved down towards their table after he was done with his announcement.
“Tomorrow we’re going to have a meeting with the head counselors and I would like you all to be there.”
“Of course,” said Sam. “We’re here to help.”
Chiron smiled slightly. Nico could tell how worried he was about the camp. He had run this camp for a millennium, he obviously did not want anything to happen to it or the campers.
Dinner went by quickly after that, and soon enough they were leaving the dining hall. They were the last ones out, Piper, Leo, Will, and Annabeth were waiting for them.
“I heard about the attack at the boarder,” said Annabeth. “Everyone alright?”
“Magnus has been fighting to stay conscious since we sat down for dinner,” said Sam, “and so has Alex.”
Alex and Magnus made similar protest noises that sounded remarkably like seagulls fighting over a fish.
“Why?” asked Piper, concerned.
“Magnus wore himself out fighting Garmr,” said TJ, “and Alex fell to the wolfs bark.”
Leo winced, “Yeah that thing sucks.”
“Magnus, you can drink nectar, right?” asked Will.
“Yeah sure,” said Magnus, “But I usually don’t need to. I can heal myself I just need some sleep.”
“Okay,” said Will, “Alex can sleep in the med house tonight with some mortal medicine.”
Alex opened her mouth in protest but didn’t object. Nico knew first hand how hard it was to fight Will on this particular subject. So, after deciding to meet at the big house for the meeting tomorrow morning, everyone parted ways. Will led Alex to the med house, the Norse demigods went to the Hestia cabin, Frank went to the Poseidon cabin with Percy (being a descendant of Poseidon, that was usually where frank stayed at camp half blood) and Hazel came to the Hades cabin with Nico.
Nico and Hazel stayed up for a little while. They talked on Nico’s bed-coffin combo about normal teenage things like school and combat classes. Okay, normal demigod teenage things. Hazel told Nico the story about how her and Alex had become friends and how Alex had decided she was going to turn Nico into a “modern teenager”. That scared Nico a lot more than the dead thing.
Eventually they got tired and got into bed to fall asleep. Just as Nico was drifting off, however, a thought nagged at him. Was Will in bed? With a patient in the Med cabin?
Damn it. Thought Nico. He stood, threw on a sweatshirt, and headed over to the cabin.
Will was checking some equitment when Nico arrived. Alex was asleep on a bed at the end of the tent.
“You should be asleep,” Nico said softly.
Will jumped slightly and looked up. He smiled at Nico, but it was a pained smile. He was obviously tired.
“I’m fine, I need to run systems check anyway,” he said.
“Can’t that wait till morning?”
Will shook his head, “there’s the meeting in the morning, I can just do it now.”
“You didn’t sleep last night because of Travis,” said Nico, “And you didn’t really sleep the night before because of that Aphrodite kid with the broken arm. You need to sleep; this wolf thing is going to kill you.”
“I’ll be fine.” Will didn’t even look up at Nico. He kept his eyes on the equipment.
“Oh my gods,” said Nico.
“What?” said Will as he leaned over medical machine.
“Doctors really are the worst patients,” he huffed. “Don’t you understand that you can’t help people if you’re in one of these beds?”
“I’m just going to make sure this girl Alex is stable and then –”
“And then some other kid will stumble over the boarder with a nose bleed and you’ll go off to help him,” Nico interrupted. “If you would just stop being a doctor for one minute you could get some sleep and –”
Will cut him off, “--What’s so wrong with being a doctor?”
“Nothing! As long as you don’t kill yourself in the process!”
Will huffed and looked out the window, shaking his head.
“Will,” Nico said in a softer voice, “I just don’t want you to over-exert yourself.”
Will chuckled slightly, shaking his head. “Says the guy who once nearly killed himself because he used too much of his own power.”
Nico looked at Will. His tone of voice and the mean sneer on his face were all so… wrong.
“What happened?” said Nico.
“What?” asked Will.
“What happened?” Nico asked again.
Will looked down at the equitment again. His breath caught and Nico realized he was fighting back tears.
“I didn’t get in.” Will said simply.
Nico’s shoulders dropped. “When did you find out?”
Will sat down in the chair next to one of the empty beds. “Three days ago.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Will shook his head and said nothing.
Nico sat on the bed, facing Will. He didn’t say anything. Will had applied to Harvard Medical School earlier that year. He was young, but he had gotten his high school diploma online already.
Everyone laughed and told him he didn’t need to go to medical school, but Will had gone on and on about how there were parts of medicine that he just couldn’t learn at Camp Half Blood. And also the fact that no hospital would hire him without a medical degree.
Will sniffed and rubbed his nose, his eyes were bloodshot.
“They probably didn’t even look at my video or read my essay. They probably took one look at my grades and threw me aside.”
Will had all A’s in sciences and maths but his Dyslexia made it hard for him to do well in English classes. He was a hard student and the worst grades he got were C’s but it still brought down his GPA.
“Will, Harvard is just a stuck up Ivy League school, there are plenty of other great medical schools that will teach you just as much.”
“I won’t get in,” he said.
“Of course you will.”
Will shook his head. “No serious college wants a sixteen-year-old kid who was kicked out of every school he attended.” Will sighed. “especially when I need so much financial aid.”
“Will, you’re gifted, you’re going to get into a school and once people see what you can do every hospital in the world is going to want you.”
Will sniffed and shook his head. Nico hated seeing him like that. He grabbed Will’s hand and pulled him up.
“Lets not count denials till they’re in okay?” he said. “Come-on. You need to sleep.”
Will nodded glumly and together they left the Med tent and headed toward the Apollo cabin.
Alex woke at 2:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep.
She tried, but the day she had just had swam around in her head, begging to be addressed. She had spoken to her mother. Why did she have to speak to him?
She couldn’t help but think that he was right. She used to think like him, and that was his weakness. She could predict what he was going to do because Alex was like him. Even though it’s a scary idea to be similar to Loki, she used it to her advantage. But now…
Was she similar to him anymore? Loki pushed away weaknesses, and so did she, or at least she did… before she decided to stop doing that. Before she thought that she was in the clear with Loki being locked up. Before she saw one year of being dead come and go and thought that she should try feeling stable for once in her life. Before she asked out Magnus Chase…
Alex rolled onto her side and thought about her talk with Sam before dinner. Once they had gotten away from the crowd Alex told Sam everything about her dream.
“I think he’s trying to get under your skin,” said Sam.
“But what if he’s right?” Alex asked, “What if my relationship with Magnus makes me weaker?”
“And slowly denying your feelings for him for the rest of eternity makes you stronger?” she asked.
Alex had said nothing.
“No one is blaming you for not seeing this coming,” said Sam. “None of this is your fault. It’s Loki’s, he’s just trying to make you blame yourself.”
“What if it is my fault?” Alex had asked. “I mean… It can’t be a coincidence that Loki starts his new attack on the same day I ask Magnus out.”
“It’s still not your fault.”
“If our godly parent was less of a jackass, none of this would be happening,” Sam said simply.
Sam always had a way to put things into perspective.
Alex had felt better through dinner. But now that creeping doubt was back. She had spent her entire life and death fighting Loki. Everything she did was a move to disobey him, or to delay his plans, or to just piss him off. Asking out Magnus… That had been for her. She hadn’t thought of her mother. It was a step towards her own happiness, and now Loki was going to make her suffer for it.
“Hey, how you feeling?”
Alex turned her head. Magnus was poking his head through the door. Of course he was there. Perfect timing!
Magnus walked into the room and Alex sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed to face him. Magnus pulled up a chair.
“I’m fine,” said Alex lamely.
Magnus nodded. “I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, I was just wondering if you were awake.”
“Well, I am.” It came out snottier than she had intended.
“Okay,” said Magnus. “I was wondering if I could run some thoughts about Loki’s plan by you.”
Alex could not talk to Magnus about Loki right now. Alex could not talk to Magnus right now.
“Could it wait till morning?” She asked.
“I guess,” said Magnus, “If you don’t feel up to it.”
“I feel fine,” Alex snapped. “I just don’t feel like talking.”
Magnus seemed to hear the implied “to you” that Alex had tried to keep out of her voice.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing,” Alex snapped.
Alex wouldn’t look at him. Sam might be right. But Loki’s logic made more sense to her. Maybe she hadn’t expected repercussions for being with Magnus, but she couldn’t help but think that she was letting her guard down. She felt relaxed with Magnus, and relaxing made her nervous.
“Talk to me,” he said. She could hear the pleading in his voice.
“What do you want me to say?” she said.
It was a year, she thought, a year from the day she had died. And she had just realized that her dream of feeling stable was only a fantasy. She couldn’t start over. She couldn’t be with Magnus.
“What do you think,” she said. “that us talking will mean we’ll come up with every solution? That you’ve got a quick one sentence answer to the problem that’s keeping me awake?”
“No,” said Magnus cautiously.
“Then why do you want to talk?”
“I don’t want to talk because I have all the answers,” he said. “I want to talk … because I like the sound of your voice. I just want to talk.”
Alex wanted to cry. Why did he have to be so perfect?
Then Alex really did start to cry, which isn’t something she did very often. It’s like her entire reality was coming apart. She didn’t know what to do. Trying to feel stable had left her feeling so... incredibly unstable. How was it possible for her to screw up this badly?
“I had a talk with my mom.”
Magnus waited. Alex was thankful for that. She told him the entire story. Including what Sam had told her. When she was done, Magnus was quiet for a moment.
“Well” Magnus said after a time, “I know you didn’t want a one-sentence answer but—”
“Our relationship obviously pissed him off enough to pay you a visit,” he said, “And in my experience, pissing off Loki means you must be doing something right.”
Alex smiled. It didn’t fix everything, but damn it helped. Alex grabbed Magnus’s shirt collar and they had they’re best kiss yet.
Leo walked into the head counselor meeting a bit late. He had stayed up late the night before talking to his brothers and sisters. He was glad to be able to spend some time with them, but he had overslept because of it.
“Sorry,” he said to Chiron, taking his place around the ping pong table in the big house.
“No worries,” said Chiron, in wheel chair mode. “Now we can get started.”
Leo looked out onto the weirdest counselor meeting he had ever been at. Connor and Travis Stoll sat together on the opposite end of the table. Well, technically it was three tables. With every cabin’s counselor, it was already hard to fit around one table, with the Norse demigods, it was impossible.
Next to the Stolls sat Clarisse, then Will and Nico. On the Stolls other side sat most of the Minor god cabin counselors including the co-counselors for the Nike cabin, Holly and Laurel, who both scared Leo. And Hypo’s counselor, Clovis, who scared Leo for different reasons. And Hecate’s cabin counselor, Leo, who scared Leo for yet another reason.
Yep, a lot of scary people on the left side of the table. The right was much more pleasant in Leo’s eyes.
Next to Nico sat Hazel, who sat next to Frank. Then came Piper and Jason, followed by Percy and Annabeth. Then came Magnus, Alex, Sam, T.J, Half Born, and Mallory.
Ok so the right side wasn’t exactly filled with smiles and rainbows, but at least none of them had turned Leo into a pig or had the ability to make him fall into a deathlike sleep like sleeping beauty.
Annabeth started the meeting by introducing the Norse demigods.
“—and that’s Alex,” she finished. “She’s also a child of Loki.”
“He,” Alex corrected. Leo blinked. Alex had changed gender overnight again. And Leo could totally see it. He had a more masculine posture. Even his face seemed to resemble a boy more than it resembled a girl. That was incredible? Was it shape shifting or did mannerism really make that much of a difference?
“What?” asked Clarisse.
“I’m a guy today.”
“You were a girl yesterday.”
“It just changes?”
“How does it change?”
“With the weather,” Alex snapped, causing everyone to laugh. Even Clarisse gave a small chuckle.
“I’m gender fluid,” Alex told the group. “And today I’m a boy.”
No one in the group seemed to care so the meeting continued.
Slowly, the group that had been in Boston told the rest about their experiences. They had to pause often so the Norse demigods could explain some background mythology or have some background mythology explained to them, but in the end everyone was caught up. They hadn’t, however, mentioned anything about Leo’s talk with Loki. Leo was grateful. He felt a lot less confused about it, but it still wasn’t something he felt comfortable sharing.
“So this Loki guy,” said Nico, “he’s behind all this?”
“We’re not sure he’s working alone,” said Jason, “we know he’s got a deal with Khione and the Venti but we don’t know if there’s anyone else.”
“And your friends—” said Chiron.
“Blitz and Hearth,” Magnus supplied.
“They are searching for another captive of Loki’s?”
“We think Junior might be a captive,” said Sam. “We aren’t sure, that’s what they went to find out.”
“We know he’s after Leo though,” said Will. “They’ve tried to steal him twice.”
Leo’s insides squirmed as the table turned to look at him. The thought of a god being hell-bent on abducting him was more than a little scary. But Leo just smiled.
“Hey, it’s nice to be wanted,” he said.
Piper rolled her eyes, “This isn’t funny Leo.”
“I’ll say,” said Clarisse. “Loki probably wants Leo to build something for him. That’s why they’ve got the dwarf too right? Because he’s a good crafts man? What is this guy building? If he’s so magical why can’t he just use his magic? Why can’t he recruit someone from his side, why is he dipping into enemy resources?”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” said Magnus. “The thing Loki wants most is to be free. He’s trapped in his cave.”
“So?” asked Lou.
“So,” said Magnus, “the last time he escaped he used one of the sharpest swords in existence, and even that needed to be sharpened after each chain. The sword was destroyed so he can’t use it again. What else can he use?”
“Nothing,” said T.J.
“There has to be something,” said Connor.
“Not that we know of,” said Sam.
“And, trust me,” said Mallory, “we know a lot.”
“We’ve spent the last half a year looking up anything Loki might be able to use to free himself,” said T.J.
“And you didn’t find anything?” asked Leo. “It just seems impossible. Everything can be unmade.”
“Not this stuff,” said Sam, shaking her head. “It’s dwarfish made them and fussed them with magic. Even Magnus’s sword, which is the sharpest we know of, would only be able to cut through one before his blade dulls.”
Magnus shifted uncomfortably and touched the necklace that hung around his chest. Leo knew that necklace turned into his magical sword Jack. Leo had a feeling that Magnus loved his sword just as much as he loved his friends. It’s understandable that Magnus wouldn’t want to talk about the idea of Jack being blunted to cut Loki free.
“It was made by dwarves?” asked Piper.
Magnus nodded, “guess which dwarf.”
“Junior,” said Percy.
Magnus nodded glumly. “If you want to find out how to break something find the person who built it, right?
“For all we know Junior’s been gone for weeks,” said Annabeth, “That means Loki could be five steps ahead of us by now.”
“This is Loki,” said Alex. “He’s definitely five steps ahead of us by now.”
That was a tad disheartening.
“So why does he want Leo?” asked Jason.
“If Loki finds a way to cut through his chains he might need someone to build it for him.”
“Why can’t he just use this Junior guy if he’s so great?” asked Clarisse.
“Maybe Junior doesn’t know how to make some of it?” offered Piper.
“Or he wasn’t captured and Blitz and Hearth will come back and tell us that he’s just taking a few days off.” Suggested Alex.
“Or the stress from being interrogated by Loki made him keel over and die.”
Everyone looked at Magnus with surprised expressions. Magnus looked like the “glass half full” guy in the group.
“He’s really old,” said Magnus defensively, “like really, really old… It’s a valid option.”
“These friends of yours, Blitzen and Hearthstone,” said Chiron, “once they find out whether Junior is in Loki’s possession or not will they come here?”
“Yes,” said Sam.
“How?” said Frank. “I thought Boston was the only way to get into this world.”
“It is for most,” Sam explained, “but Hearth can do rune magic which can probably get them to Boston.”
“Will the wolves let them in?” asked Will.
“I don’t see why not,” said Percy. “Loki wants to keep an eye on them just like he wants to keep an eye on us.”
“When should we be expecting them?” asked Chiron.
“Not sure,” said Sam. “They left the day before yesterday.”
“They took a really long time when they had to go to Alfheim last summer,” Alex pointed out.
“That was them trying to deal with the elf police force,” said Magnus, “dwarves are much less of a hassle.”
He said this like it was some well known fact. Leo stared at Magnus. There was still a lot that shocked him about Norse mythology.
“Alright,” said Chiron, “we shall wait for your friends to arrive. In the meantime, let’s talk about Leo.”
Leo jumped and looked around the table. No one else seemed surprised. Gods, what had he done?
“Oh?” he tried to ask innocently.
“We were wondering if there was any other, or contributing reason Loki might want you,” Chiron explained.
“Oh,” said Leo, slightly relieved he hadn’t accidentally set three cabins on fire (yes it had happened before). “Well, I’ve been told my jokes are hilarious.”
“Who told you that?” asked Hazel.
“People,” said Leo.
“Real people?” asked Alex.
Leo smiled. He didn’t like those two ganging up on him. They felt like an unstoppable duo.
“Really Leo,” said Annabeth. “Anything your working on now that might have caught Loki’s attention? Any information about his plan you have a hunch on that he’d like to keep silent.”
“Nope.” Said Leo, “Unless Loki wants to look into a cloaking device/ invisibility cloak like Harry Potter. And as for the plan thing… I doubt it but I have a feeling I’d be the last to know.”
Annabeth opened her mouth to ask another question but stopped as foot steps approached the door. A kid from the Apollo cabin stuck his head into the door.
“Hi, sorry,” he said, “There’s someone here.”
“Another half-blood?” asked Chiron.
“No,” said the boy, “A god I think. But I don’t recognize him. We thought maybe he was a Norse god?”
“What does he look like?” asked Magnus.
“Blond hair and he’s wearing a Red Sox jersey.”
Suddenly the Norse demigods were on their feet.
“Don’t talk to him!” shouted Alex moving towards the door.
Sam muttered something in another language that sounded like a prayer.
“Do NOT talk to him.”
“Who is it?!” asked Connor.
“Loki,” said Magnus softly.
Suddenly everyone was scrambling to their feet and heading outside. As Leo left the big house Frank grabbed his arm and said;
“Stay behind me.”
Oh great, thought Leo both sarcastically and candidly. He didn’t want to be protected, yet he probably needed protection.
They reached the boarder of camp where a man lounged against Thalia’s pine tree, stroking the giant dragon beneath it like he was a cat. The man came straight out of Leo’s nightmares. Literally, he looked exactly the same as he had in Leo’s dream. Loki’s Red Sox jersey hung over a lanky stature. His reddish-blond hair fell into his eyes and his eyes and there were terrifying acid scars surrounding his face. When he smiled, however, it was hard to believe anyone with that amount of genuine kindness in their smile could be capable of ending the world.
“Alex! Sam!” said Loki as Sam and Alex led the march down the hill. “Come to mom/dad!”
“Leave,” said Alex so cruelly Loki’s smile faltered.
Loki gave Alex a look of disappointment.
“But I was enjoying talking to this young man, here.”
Leo looked over from behind Frank (not an easy task, that kid is a giant) and noticed “that young man” was Harley, Leo’s little brother.
“Harley,” Leo called.
Harley looked over at Leo. When seeing the look on Leo’s face (which Leo assumed was one of terror) he came rushing over to his side.
Loki brightened again. “Leo!” he said. “Just the man I wanted to see.”
Leo didn’t know what to say but Alex took care of it for him.
“Leave. NOW,” he said.
Loki gave him a hurt look like Alex kicked his puppy.
“Alright,” said Loki innocently. “I just assumed you’d want to talk to me.”
“Why would we want—” said Piper.
“Ah ah ah aha, no, no,” Alex cut her off.
“My son Alex does not like to talk back to me when I talk to him. He’s going through a spot of rebellion.”
Leo noticed how Loki was very aware of Alex’s gender. He used the correct pronouns without hesitation and he seemed to know them before Alex told him. Coming from any other person that might have been seen as respectful and nice. Coming from Loki it seemed cruel. Like he was making fun of Alex’s gender fluidity. Which was weird since Loki was also gender fluid. Or maybe that was why he was making fun of it. Because it reminded Alex he was like his father in that way.
“To answer your question,” Loki continued, “I think you would benefit from negotiating with me.”
“Is there a way we can make him leave?” Magnus asked Annabeth.
Annabeth shrugged but she seemed interested in the conversation. So did everyone So did Leo. He knew he shouldn’t like Loki, but part of him still thought… what if he wasn’t that bad? Leo shook himself out of it. Wow there, he thought, you’ve learned from Piper some of the most dangerous weapons an enemy can use is a good argument.
“Oh Magnus, I thought you would want to negotiate. I guess your rant on Naglfar was just a bluff?”
Naglfar? What was a Naglfar? Something pulled at Leo’s memory. He thought Magnus might have mentioned Naglfar before… Leo realized what it was. It was the ship of toenails that they caught Loki on last summer.
“What are you--?”
“Well,” Loki interrupted. “I just assumed you cared about Blitzen and Hearthstone.”
Everyone stopped. Leo tried to get his heart started again. How had they not seen this coming? How had they not seen this coming! Leo barely knew Blitzen and Hearthstone and he felt like he was going to be sick? Where was Loki keeping them? How would they ever find them? Loki was a god, Leo had a feeling he could keep an elf and a dwarf hidden from them.
“What did you do to them,” Sam’s voice was murderous, her stature was stiff. The Norse demigods all looked like they were waiting for a bomb to go off. Wasn’t it enough that Loki had Blitz and Hearth? What else were they waiting for?
Leo was nervous. These people knew Loki better than him. If they were expecting this to get worse, odds are it was about to get worse.
Loki put his hand on his chest like he Sam had insulted him.
“Me?” said Loki innocently. “What could I have done? In case you hadn’t noticed I’m a bit tied up right now. Sam dear, I’m not even here—” Loki swept his hand that was petting the camp’s dragon a bit lower than before. Instead of hitting the dragon, his hand went right through.
The Norse demigods didn’t look impressed.
“Really, what did you expect?” Loki continued, “Dwarfish police search through the partially destroyed house of a beloved and elderly dwarf that is a favorite of the gods. There, they find two dead bodyguards and a magically destroyed defense system. And then they find two people leaving the site? A long-time family rival and his friend that can do magic. What did you expect them to think?”
T.J made a small choking sound. Everyone was too stunned to move. Leo slowly began to understand what Loki was saying. He had taken Junior, after destroying his house and killing his bodyguards. When Blitzen and Hearth were seen there, the police assumed that they had murdered Junior because of his feud with Blitzen. Loki didn’t have Blitz and Hearth; they were just in jail in another universe.
“And of course,” said Loki dejectedly, “those dwarves…” Loki sighed, like it really pained him to say what he was saying. “Their judicial system is horrible. The fairness of your trial relies on status and Blitzen’s status…” Loki made a pained face and Leo’s heart dropped again.
“I’m afraid,” Loki continued, “they also have a pretty heavy reliance on the death penalty.”
Oh no, thought Leo, please let them still be alive.
“They’ll be executed at Mossglow. Although seeing as though the dwarfish prisons cells aren’t known for their bright lighting… I’d give poor Hearthstone another six hours.”
Six hours. Six hours until Hearth died. Leo didn’t understand why Hearth only had six hours or what Mossglow was but he knew they didn’t have much time. Leo felt responsible. Loki never would have done this if Leo hadn’t gotten involved. Loki seemed to understand that as well.
“Leo,” he said good-naturedly, “I know you didn’t know them very well, but you’re a good person. I just need your help for a few hours.”
Leo realized the only way Blitz and Hearth were going to live was if he went with Loki. He took a deep breath, going with Loki didn’t mean he had to help him. He’d build something to make the Loki’s chains stronger. Who knew, he might be able to outsmart Loki.
Leo dethatched Harley from his leg. He had started to cry, Leo hated making Harley sad. He walked up to Loki. Loki wasn’t violent, he was just a jackass, so Leo suspected he would be alright.
Alex slammed an arm against Leo’s chest chest preventing him from going farther.
“No deal,” he said.
“What?” said Leo.
“Not deal,” Alex said again. “Humans can’t be traded like objects.”
Loki’s eyes suddenly turned cold. “I always knew you were spineless,” he said coldly, “I just thought you would hide it better.”
Alex stared down his father, “Leave,” he said, “NOW.”
That’s when the Greek demigods snapped back to reality.
“I, Annabeth Chase, camp senior counselor, banish Loki, in any form he takes, from camp Half Blood.”
It sounded like a stupid chant to Leo but it seemed to work. Loki’s face turned sour and he started getting transparent. Then Charon finished the job. He stomped his hooves on the grass, a sound like a gong shot out and with that Loki vanished.
The camp stared at where Loki had vanished in a stunned silence.
“Well,” said Mallory. “Shit.”
A reminder that this doesn't tie into Trials of Apollo. I say this because I know the next book came out and I heard there was a major plot point that would factor into this story. I'm just pretending Trials of Apollo doesn't exist to save myself the headache :P
Also, sorry this chapter is kinda lame but if I started the breakout this chapter it would just be too long.
Piper agreed with Mallory. Shit.
Piper’s brain felt mushy. She thought she knew how to speak; her charm speak was more than a gift from her mother. She had a gift for rhetoric and liked to think her roles in school productions were not in vain. Now… she wasn’t sure.
She was so confused. She left the conversation thinking that none of this was Loki’s fault. Then, she had to remind herself that if Loki hadn’t taken Junior in the first place none of this would have happened. Loki was evil. But was he responsible for Blitzen and Hearth’s problem?
Others seemed to have the same thoughts.
“Why did you stop me?” Leo demanded.
“It wouldn’t have done any good.” Alex paced back and forth. His face was red and he was shaking with anger.
“What do you mean?!” Leo demanded, “He said he would give us Blitzen and Hearth! Hearth is going to die in six hours, I could have helped!”
“Leo,” said Hazel, “you would have been forced to help Loki. We can’t risk you going with Loki. He might have killed you after you were done.”
Hazel’s logic made sense to Piper. She tried to put her brain back together. Loki was evil. Leo couldn’t go with him.
“Your sacrifice would not have helped Blitz and Hearth,” T.J. said sullenly.
Everyone looked at T.J. He and Magnus sat on a rock by the boarder. They both looked broken and sad. Mallory stood off to the side, angrily kicking up dirt while Half Born watched her with a vacant expression.
“What do you mean?” asked Leo. “You said Loki never straight up lied, he just fudged the truth.”
“Yeah,” said Alex, “but think back. Did he ever say he would give us Blitz and Hearth if you left with him?”
Piper felt like she was punched in the chest. The air left her lungs, she was worried she would puke. He never said that he would help. He just insinuated it. And she hadn’t even noticed.
“Let’s see if this sounds like something he would say,” Alex straighten out and put of a sympathetic look. Piper’s gut twisted, he looked just like Loki. His appearance was always similar but with those small adjustments they were interchangeable.
“Oh,” said Alex, mimicking Loki, “but what can I do? I’m tied to a rock in some cave somewhere, how would I be able to change a dwarf execution statement?”
There was a stunned silence as that sunk in.
“Don’t ever do that again,” said Piper, “that was terrifying.”
“So what so we do?” asked Percy, “We have to get to the dwarf world… Nidglifar… or something?”
“Nidavellir,” Sam corrected.
“We can’t.” said Mallory, still kicking dirt, “we have no way of getting there.”
“What do you mean?” Asked Nico, “how did they get there?”
“They were in Boston,” said Magnus. Piper wanted to give the poor guy a hug, he looked broken. “Boston is the Midgard entrance to the world tree,” he explained. “There’s no way out of Midgard anywhere else in America.”
“Then let’s go to Boston,” said Frank.
“It takes four hours to get there without traffic,” said Leo, clearly having already thought through that. “Hearth only has six.”
“Why is that, by the way,” Piper asked.
“Elves require light to live,” Magnus explained, “being in the dark too long can kill Hearth. The Elf world doesn’t have night. The sun just goes towards the horizon and starts rising again. Nidavellir, however, has no sun. Blitzen has a tanning booth in his apartment to keep Hearth alive when he’s there but Hearth can’t get to it in prison.”
“And what’s Mossglow?” asked Leo.
“The equivalent of sunrise in Nidavellir,” Magnus continued, “when the moss on the walls of the tunnels glow.”
“There’s no way to get to Nidavellir now?” asked Leo.
“I can.” Everyone looked to Sam. “Valkyries can change worlds basically anywhere. But I can only do it once in a while because it takes energy, and I can only take one person with me.”
“Two people against a dwarf prison?” said Magnus, “I’m going to assume dwarf prisons are pretty tech savvy and hard to break into considering what their bars look like.”
“We need more people,” Alex agreed.
“Oh!” said Sam, rummaging through her pockets.
Piper looked at her, a bit scared.
“What?” asked Piper.
“Stanley,” said Sam.
That didn’t really help.
Sam took out what looked like a domino from her pocket and held it out triumphantly.
“Wow,” said Leo dryly.
Sam gave him a ‘stop being a smartass’ look, and explained.
“This is a rune,” she said, “it means… I don’t actually know what it means but it makes an eight legged horse that Magnus named Stanley. He can transport three people to another world.”
“Great!” said Magnus. “That makes five people. That’s better than two.”
“Uh,” said T.J, “Problem. It’s still Hearth’s magic and wouldn’t using it hurt him?”
“How would it hurt him?” asked Jason.
“When Hearth uses magic it drains him,” Magnus explained, “He’s probably using all of his energy to stay alive. We’d be cutting the time to get him in half.”
“So we’d have three hours?” said Percy.
“It’s better than nothing,” said Annabeth.
“Okay so who’s going?”
“Sam, obviously,” said Half Born.
“I’ve only been once,” said Sam, “and I didn’t meet any dwarves. Except Junior...”
Sam looked at the other Norse demigods hopefully.
T.J, Mallory, Half Born, and Alex shook their heads.
“I’ve never been,” said Alex.
“Once, thirty years ago on a scheduled trip.” Said T.J.
“I was on the same trip,” Mallory said, “I broke a cup and got banished.”
“I try to avoid dwarves when possible,” said Half Born. “I’m barely okay with Blitzen.”
Everyone looked at them. Piper had a few questions but she decided they weren’t important.
“Okay,” she said awkwardly, “Magnus?”
Magnus shifted awkwardly. “I went once,” He said, “I met one dwarf who may remember me. And he probably knows where the prisons are.”
“Great,” said Alex, “so Magnus is going. And I’m going too.”
Everyone looked at him. He rolled his eyes.
“Another shape shifter can’t be a bad idea. Plus, Magnus and Sam are both kind souls and if they need to scare the crap out of some dwarves they’ll probably combust. Also: I want to.”
No one saw a flaw with that logic, or if they did their fear of Alex kept them silent.
“Okay,” said Leo, “I’ll go too.”
“Leo this isn’t your fault,” said Magnus. “You’re not responsible for fixing this.”
“I know that,” said Leo.
Piper could tell he didn’t know that but she stayed silent.
“You said that the prison will have high security,” he continued. “I can help with the electronics.”
“I’ll go too,” Piper added.
She felt herself go red as all eyes turned to her. She could tell everyone wanted to go, even though no one really knew Blitz and Hearth. A rescue mission was much better than sitting around and waiting for something to attack.
“If there are guards I can help get around them without raising alarms,” Piper reasoned. And I need to do something productive so I don’t overthink about how powerful Loki is, she added in her head.
“Alright,” said Leo. “Me for the locks, Piper for the guards, Alex for shape shifting, Sam for travel, and Magnus for healing and his contact. That makes five. Power team.”
He gave the crowd one of his dorky smiles. Piper was sure it was all an act, but everyone seemed to relax slightly.
“Sorry we have to leave like this,” said Sam to Chiron.
“We will manage,” he said.
“This is just as important,” Annabeth assured her.
Piper noticed Lacy scooting back through the crowd. Piper hadn’t noticed her leave the crowd in the first place. She caught her eye. Lacy held up a small backpack at Piper. Piper smiled, she must have run the the Aphrodite cabin and packed her a bag when she said she was going. She had the best siblings.
“Alright,” said Sam, “No time to waste. We should be back in a day or so. We might have to go to Boston and take the long way back.”
Annabeth nodded, “we’ll be fine.”
Sam took the ruin in her hand and tossed it in front of her. The rune dissolved, creating a symbol ᛖ. The rune flashed and standing there was horse that defied every law of nature Piper knew.
She wasn’t sure what she expected, maybe that the mythical horse would be majestic? It wasn’t. It was a normal horse shoves onto four extra legs. How did it go to the bathroom? How did those legs do anything but slow it down?
The horse nickered.
“Uh,” said Percy. “He wants to go.”
“You can speak to horses?” asked Alex.
“Yeah,” he responded simply.
“Then ask him what his name is because I’m tired of Magnus calling him Stanley.”
Percy looked at the horse and said nothing. The horse whinnied in reply.
“He says he likes Stanley.”
“Ha!” said Magnus in triumph.
Stanley whinnied again and stomped his hooves.
“He really wants to go,” said Percy. “He doesn’t like standing around.”
“You heard the horse.” Leo walked up and Stanley kneeled so Leo could climb on.
“I’ll take Alex,” said Sam, taking her brothers arm.
Magnus gestured to Piper who got onto the horse behind Leo. Magnus go on last.
“Alright hold on,” said Magnus. Piper wrapped her arms around Leo’s waste. She smiled at Jason, who smiled back, but she could tell he wished he was coming. “Alright Stanley, take us to Nabbi’s Bar, Nidavellir.”
Stanley did not hesitate, with a terrifying whoosh Piper was pulled forward into another world.
Piper kept her eyes closed tight. All she heard was wind rush past her. The ride itself was very smooth. It felt like she was in a car. With no walls, or seatbelt, just holding onto Leo for dear life. Finally, Stanley stopped and Piper allowed herself to open her eyes. They were in the middle of an unpopulated street. It looked like night time. There were stone walls around them where moss glowed green as one of the only sources of light.
Leo, Magnus, and Piper hoped off Stanley and looked around for Alex and Sam. They came running up the street.
“Is this it?” asked Alex.
“Yep.” Magnus led the way inside.
Music blared out of many speakers. Piper could barely see around her before her eyes adjusted to the darkness.
The first thing Piper noticed was how out of place everything seemed. None of the tables were the same, none of the chairs matched either. The whole bar looked like it had been decorated by someone with serious ADHD. There were very few Dwarves in the bar, two or three sat in the corners and a bartender stood behind the counter.
Magnus approached the bar. Piper first thought that this dwarf was rather tall, about Piper’s height, but then she realized he was standing on a platform. He was no more than two feet.
“Nabbi,” said Magnus, “I don’t know if you remember me, I’m—”
“Magnus” Nabbi finished, “son of Natalie.” Nabbi did not look up, he kept his eyes focused on the glasses he was drying. “I can’t help you.”
“Can we at least sit down?”
Nabbi slowly nodded and put down his glass. Leo went to sit but Magnus stopped him. Nabbi stepped in front of them.
Magnus pointed towards Sam who stood next to him.
“This is Sam, daughter of Ayesha. And Leo…”
“Son of Esperanza,” said Leo. They all quickly listed off their names and their mother’s names. Piper noticed Alex said he was a son of Margret, when Piper knew his mother was Loki. Nabbi then proceeded to inform them of the names and makers of each of the chairs they were about to sit in. Then the cups they were about to drink from. Piper was worried he was going to start listing off the names of all the tables but he simply cast Magnus a sad glance and walked away before they could ask him any questions.
“Who’s Margret?” Leo asked Alex.
“My step mom,” he replied. “I don’t like her much but she’s better than spreading around who my actual mom is.”
Leo nodded, “So…” he said, “this chair is really uncomfortable and rickety. Whoever this dude Gamber is he needs to learn how to use a level.”
Magnus snorted but Sam shushed them. “Gamber might be Nabbi’s brother for all you know.”
“Why are we talking to Nabbi?” asked Alex, “Why don’t we just walk up to a dwarf and ask them where the prisons are?”
“Nabbi is respected,” said Magnus, “he judges crafting tournaments. He also likes Blitzen. There aren’t many dwarves that meet that description.”
Nabbi walked by again and Magnus gestured for him to come over.
“Nabbi,” he started.
“Magnus telling you what you want to know means breaking a dozen laws,” Nabbi cut him off. “I don’t want Blitzen to be locked up in prison but I also don’t want to be in the cell right next to him.”
“No one will know,” Magnus pleaded, “we need to know where they are and soon.”
“He’s going to be executed tomorrow,” said Nabbi. “some of the old folk still have a stomach for that so it’s going to be open to the public just…break him out there. It will be easier than getting into the Trove anyway.”
“Trove?” asked Leo.
“Our prison,” Nabbi explained.
“We can’t wait till then,” Magnus continued. “His dwarf friend, Hearthstone? Remember him? He won’t survive another three hours without a light source. Tell us the Trove has that and we’ll leave right now.”
Nabbi seemed to be paralyzed with indecision. His eyes darted around the room to the other dwarves. Piper took a deep breath and layered her voice with charm speak.
“You won’t be the one breaking into the prison,” she reasoned. “No one can trace this back to you. All we need is a location.”
Nabbi bit his lip but didn’t break eye contact.
“You don’t want to be the reason Blitzen and Hearthstone die,” she said.
Nabbi sighed and took out a blank sheet of paper from under the desk, scribbled something on it, and handed it to her.
“Don’t tell anyone where you got this.” With that he walked away like nothing happened.
Piper looked at the paper. Directions.
She hopped off of her chair and held up the paper.
“See?” she said, “easy.”
She smiled to herself. She felt in control again. She liked being in control. With that, the group followed her out of Nabbi’s Bar into the streets of Nidavellir.
Piper crouched behind a rock with Leo, Alex, Magnus, and Sam. She expected the Trove to be a high tech prison made of titanium with lasers and stuff. Instead, she got a shack…with a fat dwarf outside the door.
“That’s it?” she whispered.
“Doubt it,” said Sam.
“Alright,” said Piper, “I’ll go talk to him.”
“He’ll probably shoot you on sight,” said Alex. He straightened his shirt. “One moment.”
Alex changed form into a mouse. He quickly scuttled around the boarder and out of sight.
“Alright,” Leo whispered, “so Alex is on his own page.”
At that moment, there was a gasp and a bang from the direction of the Trove. They all peeked over from around the rock and saw Alex standing above an unconscious dwarf, holding a trashcan.
“Tada,” he said dryly.
Slowly, as though suffering from jetlag, the group gathered by the door, trying not to disturb the unconscious dwarf.
“Alright,” Leo muttered. He pulled out two long pieces of metal from his tool belt and quickly picked the lock.
As the door swung open, two more guards jumped to their feet from the room inside.
“Wait, we’re supposed to be here,” Piper cried, putting her hand in front of her.
The guards stopped, becoming confused. Alex pick up his trashcan and knocked both dwarves unconscious.
“Jeeze,” said Leo, “let’s stop doing that.”
Alex simply shrugged. Together, they pulled the unconscious dwarves into a nearby closet and closed the door. Leo snapped his fingers and a small flame gave them light.
“Alright,” said Leo. “This is probably the time for a plan.”
“We need to split up,” said Sam. “This place probably has security, but if we can turn that off…”
“Shouldn’t be too hard once I find the power box,” Leo told them.
“Good,” said Sam, “but this place will probably also be a maze.”
“A maze?” asked Piper.
Magnus nodded, “Dwarves can dig tunnels the way we dig through snow. They would definitely make this place hard to navigate.”
“So we split up,” said Alex, “cover more distance.”
“How do we get out?” asked Magnus.
“I think I’ve got that covered.”
Leo took out a handful of small devices.
“These will undo the locks on their cells if you find them,” he told the group as he handed them out. “As for the getting lost problem, a less technological solution.”
Leo took out five large rolls of twine from his tool belt. He tied one end of each to the door of the Trove and handed them out.
“Another thing,” said Magnus. “I doubt there are any more guards but if there are, don’t kill them. Just knock them out. These guys aren’t monsters, they’re mortal. And they’re just doing their jobs.”
Everyone nodded and with that the search began.
The power box was ridiculously easy to find. Leo just led them through the tunnels, following some cables on the ceiling. Disabling it was another matter. Leo needed both hands, but without the flame on one he couldn’t see. Finally, Piper opened up the backpack her sister had given her to discover she had packed Piper a flashlight along with ambrosia and a bottle of water and a change of clothes.
After the security was down they went over the plan.
“What happens when we find them?” asked Piper.
“Get them out of the Trove,” said Magnus. “Blitzen’s got a tanning bed in his apartment that can help Hearth.”
“I have some ambrosia in my bag that can probably keep Hearth going.”
“No!” whispered Sam and Alex hoarsely.
“What?” asked Leo, “Is Hearth a child of Loki?”
“He’s not a child of anyone,” said Magnus.
They all looked at him.
“Well, I mean, he is,” said Magnus, “just not a god. Hearth isn’t a half-blood.”
“He’s not?” asked Piper. She thought that Hearth had powers. How can a mortal have powers like that?
“I can heal him once we get out. But until then he’ll just have to manage.”
They all nodded. Aware of what they needed to do. And with that, they split up each going down one path in the maze, their spools attached to their hips.
Piper moved faster by each cell. It was hard to race by each one. Every dwarf looked enough like Blitzen for a second glance. Every empty cell had enough shadow for someone to be hiding in the corners.
Every fork in the tunnels made Piper’s heart drop. It would be impossible to search them all in the hour and a half they had left.
Piper turned a corner to find herself facing an impressive looking doorway. Across the door there were a bunch of strange symbols engraved in the stone. Piper looked at them. That had to mean something right?
She took out Leo’s device and pressed it against the lock. The door popped open immediately. Piper inched through it and looked around. She had given her flashlight to Alex. He was going down a darker hallway than Piper. Now she regretted doing that.
Piper turned into the next hallway and looked into the first cell. Her heart jumped, lying in the middle of the cell was a pale elf wearing all black. Piper shoved Leo’s machine into the lock and the cell door popped open.
She stepped in and kneeled at his side.
“Hearthstone?” she asked. “You can’t hear me,” she realized out loud.
Gently she touched his shoulder. Hearth jumped, rolling away. He tried to sit up but collapsed onto his back again.
Piper saw he was having trouble breathing. He was much worse than Magnus said he would be. Piper realized that she was probably the worst one in the group to have found him. Magnus could have healed him, he would have recognized Alex or Sam, and Leo could have made a fire to give him light. She couldn’t do anything.
Piper clenched her fists. She could make him less afraid. If only she could use charm speak. It would be easy to calm him down with some charm speak in her voice. Instead, she had high school sign language.
My name is P-I-P-E-R. she signed, I A-M W-I-T-H M-A-G-N-U-S.
Heath seemed to be following but it was hard to tell where she stopped on word and started another. She needed to get Hearth out of this cell, but she couldn’t carry him, and he definitely couldn’t walk.
S-H-O-P? Hearthstone signed to her slowly.
She nodded forcefully. He remembered her from Blitzen’s Best. Hearth was still rigid against the back wall. To get him out of the cell she would need to drag him, but he wasn’t going to let her unless she calmed him down.
She focused on that feeling she got when using charm speak. How she felt as though she could see her words in the air. Sign language couldn’t be that different. She began to sign again.
It is G-O-I-N-G to be A-L-R-I-G-H-T. I A-M G-O-I-N-G to G-E-T you O-U-T.
The letters she signed seemed to have a curve to them. Her fingers moved smoothly through the air. Everything about her gave the illusion of peace. Piper let Heath lean on her and together they hobbled back down the corridors.
Alex ran past each cell, glancing in and moving on. Piper’s flashlight was making things go faster, but not fast enough. Alex could almost here the time go by. Hearth only had an hour and a half left. And that included the time it would take to get them to Blitzen’s apartment.
More and more cells raced past. He made sure to look into every single one. Almost every cell had a dwarf. None of them had Blitzen or Hearthstone.
One by one they passed. Too short for Blitzen. Not pale enough for Hearthstone. Alex passed by one cell and was two cells down before he stopped. Racing back to the cell, he grabbed the bars and looked inside. Sitting against the back wall was a very well dressed dwarf with his eyes closed.
Alex grabbed the device Leo made and shoved it in the lock. The door swung open immediately.
“Blitz,” Alex hissed, “get up it’s time to go.”
He ran to Blitzen’s side.
“Alex?!” Blitzen whispered, snapping back to alertness. “How… When.”
“No time, come on.”
Alex grabbed Blitzen’s arm and dragged him back towards the entrance. Blitzen wasn’t weak or even frazzled. He ran alongside Alex until they reached the entrance.
“We’re looking for him,” Alex told him, “We’ve got another hour or so because we had to use his rune to get here.”
“What?!” whispered Blitzen.
“What?” Alex responded, “we needed a way to get here without wasting so much time. Loki said Hearth had six hours so we cut that in half when we used the rune.”
“On average, elves can last six hours in complete darkness. But that’s if they were in bright light for the hours before that. Hearth was in semidarkness for a day before we were captured. He probably has fifteen minutes now!”
Alex stopped breathing. There was no way they could search the entire Trove in fifteen minutes. Blitzen was a wreck; Alex could tell he was thinking the same thing.
“Alright,” Alex said in a monotone, “I’m going to… go back through the tunnels.”
“Yeah, I’ll help.”
Without another word they ran into the tunnels. Alex was so stupid. Why had he believed Loki’s number? They ran around the first corner and collided with two figures headed slowly in the other direction.
The four of them fell to the ground. Alex turned on his flashlight and looked at who they had bumped into.
“Piper?” he said.
“Alex?” Piper responded.
“Hearth!” Blitzen pulled his buddy into a tight hug. Hearthstone waved slightly, leaning heavily into Blitzen.
Alex took his flashlight and shined it in Hearths face, hoping the light would help.
“Can you tell the others?” Alex told Piper. “We need to get out now. Hearth doesn’t have as long as we thought.”
Piper nodded and ran off down the hall.
“How is she going to—?” Blitzen started.
“We made a plan,” Alex told him, “Once one of us finds Hearth we go to the fuse box and triggers an alarm.”
“A certain alarm. It doesn’t do much. According to Leo it’ll just bolt lock the cells so no one has any hope of getting in. We decided that if we found Hearth first we’d leave and come for you before your execution.”
Blitzen cradled Heart’s head. “Good,” he said.
Piper came running back from the fuse box. “I hope I did it right.”
Just as she said it, Magnus came barreling around the corner. Alex smiled slightly, but quickly put his mind back in real time.
Magnus didn’t say hello to them. He dropped to his knees and put his hand on Hearth’s chest. Hearthstone had fallen unconscious, but as soon as Magnus touched him he seemed to relax. Magnus’s hands started to glow, and soon Magnus was like a flashlight in the dark tunnels.
Leo came running around the corner, holding a small flame aloft in the palm of his hand. Sam quickly followed him. Together, they lifted Hearth and carried him outside. They put him down by a large clump of moss that was glowing slightly. With the combination of the moss, Leo’s fire, and Magnus (his healing and his glowing), Heath had slightly more color, but Alex could tell Hearth was still dying.
“We have to get him to your apartment,” Magnus told Blitzen.
“What? We can’t go there.”
“Why not?” asked Leo.
“I’m a fugitive!” Blitzen whispered hoarsely. “The first thing they would do is search my apartment and close it off.”
“Crap,” Alex said under his breath.
“Alright,” said Magnus, “We leave for camp right now.”
The group started discussing the best way to get to the world tree.
Alex closed his eyes and pinched his nose. What was Loki’s plan? He couldn’t see it. And when he couldn’t see Loki’s plan, that means he was being played. Alex thought back to what they had done. Loki gave them a location and a timeline, why would he do that? He could have told them that he had captured Blitzen and Hearthstone and would only give him back if Leo gave himself over. But instead he told them where to find them and how long they had.
He wanted them away from Camp Half-blood. It was the only explanation that Alex could think of. But that didn’t make sense, because Loki spent so much time trying to keep them in Camp Half-blood. But no, that wasn’t true. He wanted most of them in camp, but not Leo. He knew Leo would come with them, so they could be ambushed any second. The rescue mission could be a backup trap, incase Leo rejected his offer. It was just like Alex’s mother to have a backup trap to your original trap. But it had to be more than that. Loki gave them the wrong timeline on Hearthstone. So he wanted them to go, but not to succeed.
Alex’s eyes snapped open. Loki couldn’t get most of his forces inside of camp, so he needed Leo outside of camp in order to capture him. But there was something else, something to do with Hearth. It hit him, Hearth wouldn’t survive traveling through the world tree, and that was their only option. Loki didn’t want Hearth fighting and he wanted Leo unprotected, odds are Loki would get what he wanted. Unless…
“Sam, can you take two people to camp right now?” he asked her.
“What?” asked Sam. She looked at Alex with confusion.
Sam bit her lip. “One would be difficult. Two…” Sam shook her head sadly.
“Um,” said Magnus, “there are six of us, Alex.”
“But only two are in danger.”
“What?” asked Piper.
Alex bit his lip. Loki couldn’t win, and Alex knew that Loki winning hung on whether or not he got his hands on Leo. Alex didn’t know what role Hearth was going to play, but… Alex realized that the decision hung off of whether he was willing to be heartless to win. He looked at Hearth. What’s the point of being a hero if you’re heartless?
“Sam, take Hearth and go to camp.”
“Good idea,” said Blitzen, “we’ll follow you.”
“No, we can’t,” Alex said.
Everyone looked at him.
“Well, Leo and someone else will. I just realized that Leo being outside of camp can’t be a good thing. But Loki came into a dream of mine and...” he stopped, “I think I know where his base is.”
“What?” asked Sam, “Where?”
Alex thought of the landscape she saw outside of the white room in her dream. She realized it wasn’t a city, it was a workshop, a big one. There were hundreds of moving part, that she had just assumed were cars in her addled mind. The thing was, she noticed the type of rock that had surrounded the place, and she was familiar with it.
There was a pause as that sunk in. They knew where he was executing his plan, they might even know where he was holding Junior.
“This could be a trap,” said Piper.
Alex nodded, “probably.”
“We’re still going though,” said Leo, “right?”
“Not you.” Alex told him, “Loki wants you, we’re not delivering you to his base.”
Leo’s shoulders dropped. He looked as though he wanted to argue, but decided against it.
Sam grabbed the unconscious Hearth. “Alright,” she said, “I’ll go with Hearth now. I’ll tell them Leo and one of you guys will follow later. That leaves three to look into Loki’s base and find out what he’s doing. Don’t interfere, just find his plan.”
Alex nodded. Sam stood up, supporting Hearth, and with a flash of light, they were gone.
“This is suicide,” Blitzen said.
Alex couldn’t help but agree with him.
Since the last chapter was so late, here's another one a bit early. I'm trying another narrator and I still haven't settled on the voice so I hope it's alright. :)
T.J was itching for a fight. He wanted to kill monsters, or Loki, preferably Loki. Instead, he was trapped inside Summer Camp Extreme, being guarded by Mallory, Half Born, Percy, and Annabeth so he wouldn’t speak with Laura and Holly Victor.
“Why am I being shielded from two campers?” TJ asked Percy when he told him.
“Laura and Holly are daughters of Nike, the goddess of victory. They like to challenge people to impossible tasks to prove they’re the best at everything. And since you can’t say no to a challenge we figured it was better you three never become acquainted.”
“On the contrary," Half Born chuckled, "those three sound like a match made in heaven."
“We’d like all three of them to be alive by the end of the day,” Annabeth told him.
So they sat around. Every once in a while there was a meeting where they discussed nothing that would help.
TJ was downright excited when the Lindworms attacked.
“What the hell!?” yelled Percy, as the fat, wormlike serpents with tiny legs too small for their stomachs bounced towards the camp and spat acid.
“Lindworms!” Mallory shouted above the noise.
“How do we kill them?!” Annabeth yelled back.
Half Born was way ahead of her. The Lindworms didn’t slow down at the boarder, they bounced right into camp. Half Born charged right at them, yelling bloody murder at the top of his lungs. He swung his ax at the leader, cutting off a leg. He rolled to the side as the monster fell to the ground. Half Born rolled to his feet, hefted his ax, and chopped of the worm’s head.
“That’s how,” TJ supplied.
“Huh,” Percy said.
Before anyone could marvel at Half Born’s skill of suicidal attacks, the next Lindworm swung it’s tail and sent Half born flying into the rock wall.
“He’ll be fine,” Mallory assured them, taking out her knives. “Which one you want?”
TJ knew she was talking to him. He sized up the worms. They fought worms like them every week in Valhalla, but there they could die, they needed to take some precautions. There were five worms left, two were considerably farther into camp then the others. Mallory was asking about those two. The worm Half Born had killed was slowly starting to disintegrate, but it was still pretty solid, and it was right in front of the worm on the left.
“Left,” said TJ, taking out his gun.
“What do you mean ‘left’?” asked Frank, “We need a plan, what’s your idea? Run up just like Half Born?”
TJ and Mallory looked at him. “Well, yes,” TJ said brightly, “we’re Einherji.”
“We’ll take the first two, you guys can have the rest,” Mallory said blankly.
“What?” asked Hazel.
TJ smiled at them, and together him and Mallory charged.
TJ headed straight towards the dead Lindworm. With his musket in one hand he scaled the dead worm and jumped using his Einherji strength. Careful not to impale himself with his bayonet, which was always embarrassing (and, outside of Valhalla, fatal), he landed on top of the Lindworm. It did not like that.
TJ sunk his bayonet into the worm as it reared and lurched. It spat acid but TJ was out of it’s reach. He was vaguely aware of campers starting their attack on the other worms. TJ wasn’t going to pretend he was better at fighting than any camper, but he had practice fighting these monsters, he knew how to kill them alone, they didn’t. He climbed along his Lindworm until he reached the right spot. Sinking his bayonet into the worm’s flesh, and put his finger on the trigger. He shot the worm at point blank range, hoping the bullet would piece its heart. It did. The worm screeched and spat more acid, but it was already starting to dissolve.
He was feeling pretty good about himself, until the worm used its last bit of strength to hurl thirty feet. TJ loosened his muscles and prepared to hit the ground. When he did, he made himself roll, tensing up and coming to a stop on his hands and knees.
“Did you trip?” Mallory mocked from close by.
TJ stood. A broken ankle, fractured rib, and dislocated shoulder. He could deal with all three. Turning towards the fight, he noticed that there was only one Lindworm left. The group fought a large Lindworm outside of the boarders of camp. Half Born was back on his feet, hacking away at the worm’s legs. TJ followed Mallory to the fight.
Before he could wonder how the campers had gotten rid of all the Lindworms so quickly, TJ realized they had had help. Someone had just shown up at the camp, helped kill the other two worms, and was now helping them lead the charge against the big one. She jumped off of her horse with wings, wielding long spear with a gold tip.
Now, TJ was almost asexual. Almost. But every once in a while there was a girl or boy that made him stop in his tracks. When he had told his friends, Alex had laughed and used the term “Bisexual Light”. This girl was one of those people. She had shining black hair and a strong stature. Even from afar she was beautiful.
TJ shook himself out of his trance and focused on the Lindworm. And that was probably a good idea because that Lindworm… it was big. Maybe one of the biggest TJ had ever seen. The campers were circling it; archers were firing at its head. TJ figured it would go down after another minute of that abuse.
“WOLVES!” someone shouted.
TJ cursed. They didn’t have a minute. TJ understood what was happening, Loki’s wolves couldn’t get into the boarder, but the Lindworms could. Now they weren’t in the camps boarders. TJ understood Loki’s strategy. He had them all together, now it was time to kill them off.
TJ ran around the Lindworm and faced off against the wolves that were running towards the battle. He was suddenly aware of how suicidal he was being. Fully ready to start fighting the thirty wolves that faced him by himself, a dagger flew past him and impaled itself in one of the wolves’ head’s.
The new comer was standing next to him. Great, TJ thought, two against 29 now. But he wasn’t entirely sarcastic. This girl had to be very good to help the camp take on two Lindworms.
“Need help?” she asked.
TJ felt himself go hot. Great, he had a crush in the middle of a life and death battle.
“Yeah thanks,” he told her.
She whistled shrilly and two metallic dogs came out of no where to help them (TJ hoped they were there to help). Together, TJ, the girl, and her metal dogs of death charged into battle against Loki’s wolves.
The glorious battle didn’t last very long. All they needed was to wait a minute for the rest of camp took down the Lindworm and they could run back behind the boarder.
That minute took a very long time.
“Duck!” the girl shouted.
He ducked and rolled to the left. Ending on one knee he impaled a wolf seconds away from ripping the girls neck off. They stood back to back slicing any wolves that came close. Luckily, their orders were to kill everyone (except, probably, Leo Valdez) and they weren’t very bright so few of them attempted to go around and attack the rest of camp while they were busy. The pretty girl’s metal dogs made quick work of the few that did.
“TJ!” Mallory shouted. TJ glanced over and noticed the Lindworm going down. TJ grabbed the girl’s wrist and pulled her towards the boarder. She shook loose and ran next to him. She shouted in Latin, which TJ had taken a class in and quickly translated.
Cover our retreat
Was she talking…to the dogs?
Suddenly the silver dog came up and ripped apart a wolf that was about to overcome them.
She was talking to the dogs.
TJ raced the girl to the boarder, even with his Einherji strength, he was falling behind. Of course that might have something to do with the broken ankle.
Campers were gathered at the boarder, urging them on. Twenty feet, fifteen, ten. At five feet TJ felt a searing pain above his bad ankle, he cried out and tripped. He hefted his musket, preparing to shove the bayonet through the wolf’s face but, as he did, a blinding memory took over TJ’s senses.
He knew that this was the wolves greatest weapon, but he couldn’t shake loose from the memory. He was trapped in his mother’s arms, barely five, and watched his father be whipped. Over and over and over again. He didn’t remember the reason; he wasn’t sure there was one. Over and over again until, even at a young age, he knew they were hitting a corpse.
Suddenly reality swirled back into focus. The girl was taking her spear out of the wolf’s back. TJ swung his musket and knocked it away. He took the girls hand and they scrambled across the camps boarders.
The two of them collapsed, breathing heavy. TJ tried to shake the picture of his father from his mind. The few wolves that had made it past the girl’s killer robot dogs paced the boarder, but didn’t cross.
“Well,” said the girl, “that was an experience.”
TJ smiled, “TJ,” he said, extending his hand.
“Reyna,” the girl replied, shaking it.
No one felt like going inside so they all sat on the grass by the boarder. The doctor, Will, kneeled down next to TJ and looked at the bite. TJ could still see his step father in the back of his mind, but he just swallowed the memory, he'd think about it later. His injuries weren't that serious, but Will wasn’t impressed.
“How did you fight those wolves and run that distance with a broken ankle?”
“And a fractured rib, and a dislocated shoulder,” TJ informed him.
Mallory snorted, “Show off.”
TJ smiled, “What’d you get?”
“Fractured risked and a bruised collarbone.”
“I win,” Half Born huffed.
TJ and Mallory both snorted.
“I’m sorry,” said Reyna, “I must be new. What the hell is going on?”
“This is TJ, Mallory, and Half Born,” Frank told her, “they’re Norse demigods.”
“There’s Norse demigods now?”
“That sentence about sums up the last few days,” Frank told her.
“And how do you guys take so much punishment?” Reyna asked.
“Good question,” Frank said.
Mallory spoke up first.
“We’re Einherji,” she explained. They didn’t seem to understand so she continued. “Einherji are people, some half-bloods but some mortals too, who died an honorable death in combat.”
“What?” asked Reyna.
“We’re sent to an afterlife called Valhalla where we’re trained to be in Odin’s army. We spend most of our days in combat and we don’t stay dead inside of Valhalla. We learn how to fight through injuries like they’re not there. Especially TJ and Half Born who have had… more practice.”
No one seemed to understand that so Mallory elaborated.
“… Well let’s just say TJ isn’t wearing a Civil War jacket and uses an old fashioned musket because he’s a historical buff.”
TJ took the glass of nectar that Will handed him as everyone turned and stared. He smiled at them all and held up the glass.
“Cheers,” he said, and downed the nectar. It tasted like good bread and cheap bean stew that his mother was allowed to make him once or twice as a kid. It didn’t help his mode, just a reminder that he was raised a slave. Which happened to be the same reason his father died. And his mother. And him. But the nectar helped his injuries, including the wolf bite.
“How did you get here?” Annabeth asked Reyna. “Not that I’m not glad to see you.”
“We couldn’t get word to you about the wolves,” she said, “I thought that maybe you guys would be able to help. Now I see that that’s not true.”
“Sorry,” said Jason. “We’re a bit tied up here. Is everyone at Camp Jupiter alright?”
Reyna nodded, “we had a few injuries because people thought the wolves were from Lupa’s pack at first.”
The group winced. TJ didn’t understand, but decided he could live with that fact.
“Where’s Piper and Leo?” asked Reyna.
“With three of our friends on a rescue mission,” TJ told her.
Reyna looked at TJ which made TJ go hot again. He realized how interesting her eyes were. TJ had never liked black eyes. His eyes were black, but they always seemed inferior to more interesting colors. But one Reyna they worked.
“So you know about Philadelphia,” she assumed.
Everyone snapped to attention.
“Philadelphia?” asked Jason.
“What’s happening in Philadelphia?” Annabeth asked.
Before Reyna could answer, there was a flash of light about twenty feet away that TJ recognized.
“Sam!” he called. TJ scrambled to his feet and ran towards the light, closely followed by Mallory and Half Born. Sam appear, collapsing under Hearthstone’s weight.
TJ grabbed Hearthstones arm and Percy grabbed the other. Together, they lowered him to the ground in a spot of sunlight.
“Where’s everyone else?” TJ asked her once he checked to make sure Hearth was breathing.
“I couldn’t bring them all with me and Loki lied about Hearth’s timeline.”
“Why does that not surprise me,” Mallory murmured.
“So they’re coming back the long way?” asked Percy.
Sam shook her head, breathing heavy from the trip. Alex had a dream from Loki, he thinks he knows where Loki’s main base is. Leo and one of the others is going to come back the long way while the rest--”
“The rest do what?” Jason asked. “Take on Loki alone in another world?”
“They said they’ll just scout it out, figure out what he’s planning.”
“Because nothing could go wrong with that plan,” Hazel sighed.
Will kneeled down next to Hearthstone. “So this is Hearth?” he asked, “anything I should know before—”
“No ambrosia.” Sam answered him before he was finished.
Will huffed something between a laugh and a sigh.
“What’s with you people and ambrosia?” he asked. “Is he a child of Loki too?”
“No, he’s mortal.” TJ explained, “I’ll bet ambrosia doesn’t really agree with someone with no godly side.”
Everyone looked down at Hearth. TJ bit back a laugh, they looked at Hearthstone with more confusion and wonderment in their eyes than they had when Mallory told them TJ had fought in the Civil War.
“What do we do in the meantime?” Percy asked, “Just wait here for another attack?”
“Well we can go to Philadelphia,” TJ supplied. He looked to Reyna, “I’m assuming there’s something worth looking into?”
Reyna nodded. “Venti are surrounding the area. Monsters have overrun the place. I could tell from the air.”
“Um,” said Hazel. “How are we supposed to get to Philadelphia?”
“We can get a few people out of camp and passed the wolves,” said Clarisse.
“But should we?” asked Will. “We’ve been attacked by three different types of monsters so far. And the boarder has only kept two of them out.”
“They’re all Norse,” said Annabeth, “the boarder must be confused on what counts as a monster.”
“Great,” said Percy, “our magic tree is confused.”
Before anyone could come up with an answer to that, Hearth’s eyes shot open and he rolled onto his side, coughing and sputtering. Sam and TJ grabbed his arms and held him in place. When Hearth finally calmed down enough to look around, he signed shakily: What is happening.
TJ felt like that question was a good sum-up of the last few days.
Mallory raised her hands to answer his question, but then stopped.
“Wait,” she said, “what’s “Greek” in ASL?”
Sam huffed and started signing, explaining where they were and how they got him out of prison. She finished off by telling him how Blitzen was coming back the long way. Hearth looked obviously nervous about Blitz, but he nodded.
Okay? TJ signed to him.
Hearth nodded again.
If any of the campers were surprised that Hearthstone was deaf, they didn’t mention it.
“Well,” said Jason, shifting uncomfortably while bringing the conversation back to where it was before Hearthstone woke, “we can’t just sit here and wait for more attacks. Whether the boarder works or not, we need to start doing something to stop Loki.”
“I agree,” said TJ, “we need to start playing offence.”
“And what happens to all the people in here when Loki sends thirty Lindworms instead of six?” asked Will.
“So we need a way to strengthen the boarder.” Annabeth looked hopefully at a girl TJ vaguely recalled as head of the Hecate cabin.
The girl shrugged, “Sorry Annabeth, I don’t know anything about Norse magic.”
As Annabeth sighed, Hearth raised his hand like an obedient student in math class.
“Hearth?” asked TJ
Hearth reached down and took something out of his sock. TJ realized it was his rune bag, he must have shoved it in there for safe keeping. Oddly, it made TJ depressed. Hearth had had all of that power in his pocket and never used it. Maybe it was because he couldn’t concentrate enough, or that he knew he would be rendered next to unconscious before he could use the spell. Maybe he just couldn’t bring himself to leave Blitzen.
Blitzen took out a rune and placed it on the ground. Then he took out another, and another, and then two more.
“Is that a spell?” TJ asked. He recognized the rune that made Magnus invisible and the rune of strength. The others TJ didn’t know.
“For the boarder?”
Hearth nodded again.
“Are you sure you can handle a spell with that many components?” asked Sam.
TJ was thinking the same thing. He had only seen Hearth use a spell composed of two or three runes, could he survive a spell with five?
Hearth straightened his back and nodded again. There was a fierce determination in his eye. TJ had a hard believing any mortal could attempt a spell of that kind, but looking at Hearthstone’s determination, TJ wasn’t going to bet against him.
“So he can fix the boarder?” asked Jason.
“Yes,” Sam told him, “but not now. He’s barely conscious. He needs time to build up his strength.”
“How long?” asked Will.
TJ looked at Hearthstone and translated.
“He says he should be ready by tomorrow morning.”
After that, a plan fell into place. They would leave the next morning. The group consisted of the Norse demigods, Percy, Annabeth, hazel, Frank, Jason, and Reyna. Others volunteered, but it was too risky to bring more. They were going to rent a van, which apparently Percy knew how to drive (Mallory claimed she did too, but TJ didn’t like to idea of sitting in a car with Mallory behind the wheel since she hadn’t driven in, at least, thirty years).
Eventually Mallory and Sam led Hearth to the Hestia cabin to rest. The fire in the middle would keep the cabin well lit. TJ went to a nearby bench and sat down. He rubbed his leg, trying to go unnoticed as everyone started to prepare for their “quest”. He looked up and accidentally made eye contact with Reyna. He grew hot and turned away.
This better not last the entire quest, he thought.
Leo had never liked climbing trees. When he was eight, he fell out of one and broke his leg. When he was ten he almost set one on fire. But climbing a tree that has branches bigger than him over pit with no end? Yeah, Leo didn’t like that at all.
“Okay,” said Jack, “this is to Jotunheim.”
They stood (or floated in Jack’s case) over a crack in the wood of the tree. A breeze of snow rushed over them, proving Jack’s point.
“Alright,” said Blitzen, “what about Midgard?”
Jack pointed with the tip of his blade to a crack two branches up.
“Great,” said Leo, “more climbing.”
Piper, Alex, and Magnus strapped their backpacks on tighter. They had picked up some supplies in Nidavellir for their trip. And Blitzen and Leo had picked up some “Midgard money” for their trip back to Camp Half Blood.
“Alright,” Magnus said to Blitz and Leo, “we’ll see you back at the camp.”
Blitz hugged Magnus and Alex and Leo hugged Piper. Then they watched as the three half-bloods and Jack jumped through the world tree into the land of the giants.
And Leo and Blitzen were left in awkward silence.
“Alright kid.” Blitzen fastened his hat onto his head and lead the way across the branch.
Climbing up to the Midgard entrance was actually a lot harder than Leo thought it would be. There were no hand holds on the tree and vertical climbing was soon discovered to be impossible.
“Maybe I can hammer some tools into the tree’s trunk?” Leo suggested, “Make some handholds?”
“The world tree is too strong, your tools would probably break. And we don’t was to disturb the tree, it has a few… residents… that we don’t want to bother.”
“Wow, wait,” said Leo, “there are things living in this tree?”
“Oh sure,” said Blitzen, inching around a patch of sticky moss, “but most of them are nice enough, we just have to watch out for—”
As if on cue, a loud roar shook the branches they were standing on. Suddenly Leo started hearing faint whispers inside his head. They were too small to hear, but the tone of the voice sounded bitter and cruel.
“Wha—” Leo started.
“Ratatosk!” Blitzen shouted, pulling Leo away from the sound.
The tree started to shake and creak as something big climbed down the tree toward them. Branches banged together emitting ear splitting firework sounds.
“What’s a—?!” Leo started to holler over the noise.
Just as he asked, a giant monster burst from the branches above them. It barked again, and this time the voices were loud in Leo’s ears. Leo stopped cold in his tracks, overwhelmed by them.
You will always be the seventh wheel. Calypso doesn’t love you anymore. She just feels obligated to stay with you. No one really cares what would happen to you if you get caught, they’re just afraid you’ll help Loki.
Blitzen slapped him.
“Kid snap out of it! We gotta go.”
Together, Leo and Blitzen ran from branch to branch away from the giant squirrel that was barking insults. Returning to earth was the farthest thing from Leo’s mind, all he wanted was to get away. Actually, all he wanted was to curl into a tiny ball and obsess about his sorrows, but Blitzen wouldn’t let him. The dwarf half pulled, half carried Leo through the branches and dangers of the Roman tree of life. Leo’s head was full of nasty insults and his deepest fears and regrets. Blitzen yelled over them.
“We gotta jump kid!” he screamed.
And just like that Leo was pulled into another world.
Leo landed on his face. He laid on his stomach for a few seconds, breathing in dirt and grime. When he finally looked up, he found himself on a familiar street.
“Nidavellir?” Leo asked.
Blitzen rolled onto his back and sat up. He grunted in reply.
“It was the place we entered the world tree,” he told Leo. “At least I knew what we were jumping into. Some worlds connected to that tree kill you as soon as you enter.”
“I’m loving Norse mythology more and more,” Leo muttered. “So what do we do? Find another entrance to the world tree?”
“Nah, this one’s fine, we just have to wait for Ratatosk to continue down the tree.”
“What the hell is a Ratatosk?”
“The immortal squirrel that lives in the tree.”
Blitzen said this as though it was obvious. Like, of course there’s a squirrel the size of a moose that barks insults and attacks on sight. Why wouldn’t there be?
“Most of the squirrels I’ve met just bury nuts and mind their own business.”
“And are about four inches tall? Yeah Ratatosk is a bit different. He runs up and down the world tree, destroying as he goes. He passes gossip and lies to the eagle at the top of the tree and the dragon at the bottom so they’ll destroy the tree as well.”
“Doesn’t he live in the tree?”
“Yeah. He’s crazy.”
Leo nodded. Crazy squirrel? check. A god wants him for slave labor? Check. Sitting in a dark tunnel in another world with a dwarf named after a flying reindeer? Check. This week was shaping out to be like one of Leo’s more creative nightmares.
Leo thought about what the squirrel had told him. He thought about Calypso. He missed her, but something inside him told him she didn’t miss him. It wasn’t a normal relationship after all. Leo saw it all the time at camp. A couple is having trouble and one of them wants to break up, then the other saves their life and suddenly they decide to “give it another chance”. He didn’t want to do that to Calypso. He saved her from that island so she could be free, now he felt like he was just trapping her in an unhappy relationship.
And what about Loki? Leo had been thinking about it in the back of his mind. No one seemed worried about what would happen to him, just what he would do for Loki. Leo had never been held captive before, but it didn’t sound very fun. He wasn’t stupid enough to say he wouldn’t help Loki. Leo wasn’t going to pretend he could stand any kind of torture, much less torture delivered by a god.
“Hey,” said Blitzen, “don’t let Ratatosk get to you. Just because he said it doesn’t confirm anything. He doesn’t know anything about your situation, he’s just stirring things up. It’s what he does.”
Leo nodded but wasn’t convinced.
“Why didn’t it have any effect on you?”
Blitzen smiled bitterly.
“It’s nothing I haven’t heard before.”
Leo considered how to respond to that. Luckily, he didn’t have to.
“Freeze!” shouted someone to their left.
“Crap,” Blitzen muttered.
A dwarf in a prison guard uniform and a big hat marched towards them, holding up a strange looking weapon that Leo decided to think of as a gun.
Leo and Blitzen put their hands in the air, maybe Nidavellir wasn’t the best place to wait in.
“Blitzen, son of Freya, you are under arrest for the murder of Eitri Junior, son of Edna.”
Leo and Blitzen were led through the dark tunnels of Nidavellir. Both of their hands were bound and Leo was constantly stumbling, unable to balance himself. Finally, they reached a larger cavern. Big Hat Prison Guard shoved Leo and Blitzen into the center.
Staring down at them from a large judge chair of the oldest, shriveled up thing Leo had ever laid eyes on. Leo finally understood why Magnus and Blitzen had been so okay with Junior dropping dead. They had said Junior was one of the oldest dwarves in Nidavellir, if he was older than the dwarf glaring down at them, Junior must be decaying already.
The Judge had a wrinkled face and sunken eyes. His nose was bright red as though he was sick or cold. He was fat too, but mostly in the stomach, and he had a long white beard and mustache that made Leo immediately dub him with the title “Evil Santa”.
Evil Santa squinted down at Blitzen with an unpleasant grimace.
“Where’s the elf?” He asked.
“He wasn’t with them sir,” said the guard, “just this boy.”
Evil Santa let loose something between a sigh and a growl. “Fine. Kill the son of Freya and we will continue our search for the other.”
“Wait what?” Leo said.
It was so sudden Leo thought he had heard wrong. The dwarf with the hat retrieved an axe from the far side of the cavern and moved towards Blitzen who was shaking in front of the Judge chair.
“WAIT!” Leo shouted. He wasn’t sure what he was doing, but there was no way he was going to allow Blitzen to get his head chopped off by Evil Santa and a dwarf with a hat that was larger than him.
“Yes?” sighed the old dwarf dully.
“I… I can prove that Blitzen is innocent.”
“The verdict has already been reached,” said Santa, “unless you have new evidence available now…”
“Oh come on!” said Leo, “there has to be some way to pardon him! Something we can do to avoid the death sentence at least.”
Evil Santa and Big Hat Prison Guard exchanged smirks.
“Well,” said Santa, “there is always a crafting competition. If Blitzen wins he can demand anything as a reward.”
“Yeah! Yeah, we’ll do that.”
“Kid,” Blitzen hissed. Leo looked over at Blitzen who shook his head quickly, eyes wide.
Leo suddenly realized why Blitzen owned a clothing shop in Boston instead of living in Nidavellir, he must not have the “great craftsman” gene everyone else did.
“I mean,” said Leo, “I’ll do that. If I win, Blitzen gets to walk free.”
The dwarves looked down at him.
“You?” asked Santa, “are you even a dwarf?”
“You stand no chance, boy,” said the guard.
“Then you all have got nothing to worry about.”
There was a short silence, broken by the judge’s laughter.
“Alright,” he said cruelly, “we will postpone the execution until after you lose the competition. You will be put up against Bambi.”
Santa gestured to the prison guard with the big hat.
“Your name is Bambi? Like the deer?”
The dwarf gave Leo a cruel look which made Leo shut up.
“The competition will commence at moss glow tomorrow. The two of you can spend the night in Blitzen’s apartment,” said Santa. “I warn you, there will be guards at every exit.”
Blitzen’s apartment was small and fairly empty. There were a few pieces of furniture and an old rug. Nothing suggested anyone lived there, Leo assumed Blitzen lived in Boston where his shop was. The only thing out of the ordinary was a large metal coffin thing that seemed to be built into the coffee table. That must have been the tanning table Blitzen had built for Hearth.
“So…” said Leo, “What exactly is this thing I just signed up for?”
“You have basically all day to make three inventions. The judges will score who made the best stuff.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad.”
“It is kid, during my crafting competition against Junior he tried to kill me dozens of times. Cheating is a part of the sport, almost ever stinking dwarf in Nidavellir cheats on these things. And if you lose, the price will probably be your head, just because Bambi’s a traditionalist.”
Leo’s spirits fell. “Oh… well you said you went up against Junior right? Did you win that one? Maybe you can help me.”
“Only because I cheated.”
“Sam turned into a horsefly and stung Junior so he would mess up each of his inventions. And still, I barely won. I’m not exactly what you would call a master craftsman.”
“I don’t suppose we can cheat this time?”
Blitzen shook his head, “we don’t have the manpower,” he told Leo solemnly. “Speaking of, we have another problem. When you craft you need someone to keep the forges going but you also need a guard to protect you and I can’t do both.”
“Don’t worry about the forges I’m good.”
Blitzen looked at him, “…how?”
“My dad’s the god of forges, trust me I can keep them going on my own.”
Blitzen shrugged and continued, “one more problem.”
“Just one? Thank gods I thought we were in trouble.”
“My trial wasn’t exactly fair.”
“Yeah I saw, it was because of your status in the community right?”
“Not exactly. My status is actually pretty good nowadays. After I opened my shop dwarves respect me because they respect the stuff I make. Mostly the armor. This trail was barely a trial. The judge didn’t even let me speak. I’m pretty sure he was getting paid off by Loki. That means even if you win we might have trouble getting out.”
“Great.” Leo picking at Blitzen’s old couch. He stopped thinking about an escape plan, he had to make sure he won this contest. What would he make? He assumed Bambi the dwarf deer with the big hat could make some impressive trinkets and Leo didn’t want his downfall to be lack of imagination.
Suddenly, an idea planted itself in Leo’s mind. Leo smiled slightly.
“Don’t worry,” he told Blitzen, “I’ve got this.”
Leo hadn’t realized the crafting competition would be a such social event. There was a large crowd that had gathered to watch. Families had brought picnic baskets and blankets, people seemed to be placing bets. Did they realize that this was a competition for Blitzen’s life? Leo decided he didn’t want to know.
Leo looked at the tools and supplies he was given. Blitzen had run through the rules the night before. Leo couldn’t use any of his own tools or have any part of the machines pre-built. That means Leo couldn’t use an Archimedes Sphere because he didn’t have time to make one. It made Leo’s plan more challenging, but not impossible.
“Got what you need?” Blitzen asked him.
Leo nodded, “It’ll do.”
Evil Santa sat at the judges table with two other dwarves that were only slightly younger. In the middle of the stadium, a younger dwarf talked with Bambi. The dwarf had bright orange hair but no beard, which Leo felt was against some cosmic rule. It was bad enough that the only elf Leo had ever met did not have Legolas hair but it was a known fact that all dwarves should have beards.
No Beard approached Leo and Blitzen.
“You’re the human?” he asked.
The dwarf squinted and looked Leo up and down.
“Aren’t you a little short to be a human?”
Leo was about one inch taller than both Blitzen and No Beard so he found this very unfair.
“Aren’t you a little shaven to be a dwarf?”
Blitzen elbowed Leo in the ribs, which hurt, but Leo just smiled.
No Beard looked around as though to make sure no one was listening and leaned in.
“You realize you have no chance, right kid? Bambi studied under Junior himself. If you forfeit now, you can save your own life.”
“No thanks, I’m good.”
The dwarf stared at Leo as though wondering what he would look like without a head. He shrugged his shoulders and sighed, taking out a small piece of paper and a pen.
“Alright, what’s your name.”
Blitzen jabbed him with his elbow again. Leo remembered that it was possible Loki had a bounty on his head
“Lenard,” Leo finished. “Son of Mary.”
No Beard nodded. If he thought Leo was lying, he didn’t care.
“Alright Lenard, here are the rules. You’re not allowed to bring any equipment of your own, you’re not allowed to start up the forges until after we start. You will be scored on things like if the invention would be useful and weather or not it actually works. Now,” No Beard took out a long piece of paper, “I need you to sign this saying that you won’t sue us if you burn your finger in the forge, or get your skull cracked open by an axe maniac.”
Leo signed it, accidentally spelling out his entire first name and having to artistically turn an O into an N without No Beard noticing.
No Beard finally left to announce him and Bambi to the crowd. Blitzen hefted his small sword. Leo could tell he felt awkward with it, which only made Leo more nervous about Blitzen being his guard.
“You alright kid?” he asked, “you look a little pale.”
Leo readjusted the jacket Blitzen had given him.
“You’re sure this thing is fireproof?”
Blitzen nodded. “Unless you’re planning to stick your entire arm into the forge.”
Leo sighed slightly and looked away.
“Wait, you’re planning to stick your entire arm into the forge?”
“Kinda, yeah, but I’ll just roll the sleeve up. I like the idea of having some armor.”
“Yeah, sure, but the forge is—”
Before Blitzen could finish No Beard started to announce the competition. Leo went to his workspace and waited. After No Beard introduced them he asked if they were both ready. Bambi nodded solemnly and Leo smiled and gave him a thumbs up. A small chucked circled the crowd. They probably had never seen someone go to their death with such enthusiasm.
“Begin!” No Beard exclaimed and one of the judges started a timer.
Leo ran up to the materials at his disposal. He grabbed a few necessary tools and a large heap of bronze and hobbled to the forge.
Glancing over at Bambi, Leo noticed he was starting with the quick stuff. Bambi was very concentrated while putting together a few wires and springs that would go on the inside of his machine. Odds are, he would have to remake at the end so they would fit his invention correctly. Leo knew why, he was waiting for the forge to become hot enough to work with. That was Leo’s secret advantage: he didn’t need to wait.
Leo rolled up his sleeves and plunged his arm into the forge. He set his hand ablaze with white hot fire.
Hooray for magic fire powers! The forge started up right away. Leo took a slab of metal and went to work. Soon, he was covered with bits of molten metal and soot. Leo’s ADHD went to work, he lost track of time, completely engrossed in his work.
Every once in a while Blitzen walked over to him.
“Another hour left.”
“Thanks.” Leo didn’t look up from his work.
“Do you still want me to interrupt you like this?”
“Definitely,” Leo assured him, “I tend to loose track of time.”
For the most part, the competition was quiet. Every once in a while Leo or Bambi would put a piece of their invention together and the crowd would cheer (nerds). The most exciting aspects were the attempts on Leo’s life.
First, there was the run away mini-car. Leo wasn’t sure who had made it, but it looked like a steampunk/military tank gone horribly wrong. Full of sharp spikes sticking out of the helm, the machine roared toward Leo at full speed.
Leo tensed, ready to drop his invention and roll to the side but Blitzen had it covered. The dwarf jumped next to the tank and grabbed it’s left front wheel. The machine screeched and turned, hurtling passed Leo into the crowd.
Through the screams and shouts of a dozen unsuspecting dwarves, Leo caught Blitzen’s eye. Blitzen winked and went back to his job. Leo went back to his.
Two more attacks happened that round. One was from a ninja dwarf with a long sword. Blitzen made quick work of him. Dropping his own sword, Blitzen stepped in front of the dwarf with the mask. The ninja stabbed Blitzen with his blade and broke it on Blitzen’s vest. Leo discovered that Blitzen had a handkerchief made of the same chainmail wrapped around his knuckles. One punch sent the dwarf sprawling.
Cheers came from the crowd. Leo was feeling pretty good about his guard.
The third time Blitzen wasn’t as prepared. An arrow came out of the crowd so fast he didn’t notice. Luckily, Blitzen’s chainmail saved the day once again. He felt the arrow bruise his back. Leo turned around expecting that someone had thrown a baseball at him. Instead he found a broken arrow and an excited crowd.
“Time!” called No Beard just as Leo finished his invention. “Step back from the forges.”
Leo and Bambi both stepped back and No Beard gestured for Bambi to begin telling the judges about his creation. Leo had spent very little time looking at Bambi’s station. Now he saw that Bambi had created some sort of mini merry-go-round with scissors.
“This,” said Bambi, “is the trimmer 2000.”
The crowd of dwarves muttered and clapped. Leo winced, trying not to imagine getting his head cut off by that contraption.
“This machine can cut your hair in three minutes, to any fashion, anywhere. It has a convenient storage space for the hair that gets cut so there will be no mess to clean up!”
The audience clapped and the judges all looked very impressed.
No Beard turned to Leo.
“And you Lenard?”
Leo gestured to machine in front of him. It didn’t look very impressive. One side seemed to be made of mirrors and lights that didn’t turn on. There were wires and springs leading to an empty space in the middle and it looked as though half of it had been bitten off by a shark.
“This is nothing.”
There was a definite silence before No Beard asked another question.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s not finished.”
A mummer rustled through the crowd.
“What would it have been?”
“Does it matter?”
There was another awkward silence.
“Okay,” said No Beard, “That takes us onto our second competition!”
The second competition was a lot like the first, but there was only one attack. Blitzen punched the gunslinger in the stomach before he could shoot Leo’s face off.
About half way through Leo gestured for Blitzen to come over.
“Is this the stuff you mentioned?” he asked holding up a vile of clear water.
“Yeah, water from Jotunheim, put the right amount of electricity through it and it’ll multiply. We use it for refillable drinks.”
Leo smiled and continued to work.
The end result was also very similar. Bambi had created a robot to do your homework (no not really, just to fill out taxes, but that’s what Leo would have used it for) and Leo brought forward another pile of metal and wires to no where. This time, there was a count down clock on it, with twenty minutes displayed, but it wasn’t ticking.
“Kid,” No Beard whispered. “what’re you doing? You want to live through this? Just build something smaller next time, so you can finish it. You might still have a chance.”
Leo nodded enthusiastically and gave the crowd a thumbs up.
Bambi didn’t bother to cheat during the last round. He ran around his station grabbing this and that and piecing it together. Leo went much slower. He rolled molten metal in his hands like rolling dough for pasta. Then he weaved them together very delicately.
Maybe it was pity for Leo that made the audience hold their breath, or maybe they were just hoping for a good show.
“This,” said Bambi, holding out a small disc in his hand, “is the ultimate GPS. It can track anything or anyone just by using a strand of their hair.”
The crowd erupted into applause. Leo was impressed. That kind of power source was hard to make, next to impossible in the time they had.
“Lenard?” asked No Beard.
“This is a blanket that creates total darkness,” Leo said. “It attaches to the ground so no light will get through and the material will let in air so you can stay under as long as you want.”
There were a few pity claps, awarding him for achieving something. The judge was not as impressed.
“But why would you need it?” asked the Judge.
“I don’t know,” said Leo. “But it is light as feather, look.” Leo tossed the blanket to Blitzen who caught it with ease.
The judge smiled slightly. “Well,” he said, “we have a machine that cuts your hair, one that does your taxes, and an impressive tracking device against …two heaps of scrape and a cool blanket. I think we all know who the winner is –”
“Wait!” Leo cried.
The crowd turned to look at him. Leo put on his best cocky smile and raised he hands into the air.
“You haven’t seen the final surprise.”
Leo took out the Archimedes Sphere he had programed the night before and threw it towards his first two inventions.
The sphere worked like a magnet, pulling the machine together and locking them around it. It fit perfectly into the center.
Leo dived to the ground and Blitzen did the same, covering himself with Leo’s darkness blanket.
The second the machine fit into place a wave a bright light flashed through the tunnels. Leo could see the flash through his eye lids as he tried to keep his skin from burning off. It was as though Leo had created the sun, and that is exactly what he had tried to do.
When the light subsided, Leo looked up. He took a deep breath. It had worked. Every dwarf in or around the cavern had been turned to stone. The light had been enough like sunlight to petrify the dwarves.
Leo shook Blitzen.
Blitzen emerged from his blanket. He was completely fine and was fingering the blanket impressively.
“Can I keep this?” he asked.
“Sure, come on we don’t have a lot of time.”
The counter on his second invention had started. There were eighteen minutes and fifty-five seconds before it was enacted. It would spray water through the tunnels and un-petrify every dwarf.
Blitzen and Leo hurried out of the chamber. But passing Bambi’s station Leo stopped. The tracking device was sitting on his work table. Could Leo be sure they hadn’t left a single hair in Blitzen’s apartment? He grabbed the device and slipped it into his tool belt. He had already assaulted more than three dozen dwarves as well as cheated at their beloved tournament, what was some petty theft compared to that?
Leo and Blitzen darted around corners and through caverns. Blitzen seemed to know where he was going and Leo didn’t question him. Throughout each tunnel, more petrified dwarves emerged.
How powerful did I make this thing? Leo thought.
They were almost to the entrance to the world tree when things started to go wrong. Ice started to form over the tunnel walls. Watching the ice grow and spiral next to him he didn’t notice that Blitzen had stopped. Leo tumbled into him and they fell, tangled together, at Khione’s feet.
Leo was stuck, he couldn’t catch fire while close to Blitzen, and Khione knew that. A few well placed blasts of ice and they were trapped.
“Well,” said Khione, crouching next to Blitzen and Leo. “What a pleasant surprise.”
“How did you—” Leo started.
“We had the judge on pay roll,” Khione explained. “Gave him your description, and the use of the fire powers was kind of a give away-- Lenard.”
She gave them one of her cold smiles and with a snap of her fingers, Leo remembered nothing else.
Hi, sorry this is so late. TRIGGER WARNING: thoughts and close attempt at suicide. It's just the last four paragraphs so people can just skip over it if you need to. Enjoy :)
T.J claimed a seat at the back of the bus and stayed there for the entire trip. It might seem anti social, but he really had no other choice.
Percy drove the bus and Annabeth stayed up at the front to keep him company. However, as it turned out, when Percy said he knew how to drive a bus he didn’t mean he knew how to drive one well. Therefore, it was better to let him focus on the road. Instead of talking to him, Annabeth was having a nice conversation with Sam. TJ had tried to join then, but it was mostly about school and TJ hadn’t attended a regular school in, well, ever.
Mallory and Half Born sat together. The spent the first half of the bus ride fighting and the second half making out. TJ definitely did not want to third wheel that.
Then there was Frank, Hazel, and Jason. TJ liked all three, especially Hazel who was also from another time. But they sat with Reyna, and TJ decided to avoid Reyna as much as possible to avoid saying something stupid.
So TJ sat… He cleaned his gun and read one of the books he had been meaning to read. He kept picking at the piece of shrapnel that was stuck in his head. It just wouldn’t quit. Magnus had tried to remove it, but nothing worked. Alex had even beheaded him and cut it out, it just came back. Apparently you come back exactly the same as you were before you got injured in Valhalla. This all inevitably meant TJ had to cut it down so it looked more like a scar than a piece of shrapnel sticking out of his forehead and tried to ignore it. But he didn’t succeed.
TJ hated relaxing. Maybe it was a half blood thing, or a Tyr thing, or a Einherji thing, but just sitting was the last thing TJ wanted to do. He wanted to relieve Garmr of one of his eyes. He wanted to fight monsters in Philadelphia. At the very least he wanted to be there for Hearth, who had been weakened badly after preforming his spell for the border.
TJ told himself that Blitzen would be back from Boston by then, so he could watch over Hearthstone. They would be arriving in Philadelphia soon. In the meantime, all TJ could do was wait. He scratched his shrapnel in agitation.
“Oh my gods.” TJ looked over to Percy, who had pulled over to the side of the street and was gaping at something TJ couldn’t see.
They all converged to the front of the bus to see what Percy was looking at. TJ’s jaw went slack. Hundreds of monsters flew across the sky and raced around buildings. Mortals walked passed the scene, eyes slightly glazed over because of the glamor (or mist, whatever). Some monsters carried things: a slab of glowing metal, an oddly shaped tool, even a cage with another monster. The monsters carrying things seemed to be headed in the same direction.
“They’re getting supplies,” said Annabeth, “and bringing it all to one place.”
“Well then,” said TJ, “I guess we follow the supplies.”
It wasn’t difficult to find where they were going. They followed the steady stream of monsters running through Philadelphia. TJ let the others navigate. He sat in the back of the bus yet again, staring out the window at the liberty bell tower that was peaking out behind the buildings.
Before TJ was able to properly gawk at the historical monument Percy pulled over to the side of the road. The monsters all entered an old fashioned building near Independence Hall.
Hazel stopped the group before going in and gave them all “a disguise”. Using the glamor, she changed their appearances into a type of Roman troll-like monster.
“Alright,” Annabeth said, “we’re just here to look around. No starting fights.”
The others nodded but Sam turned and looked at TJ, Mallory, and Half Born.
“You heard her,” she said, “no starting fights.”
The three sighed and nodded but TJ couldn’t make any promises. Backing down from a challenge wasn’t exactly his thing.
The ten found themselves walking into a large warehouse-like building filled with empty moving crates and heavy machinery. The place seemed to be run by giants from Jotunheim. They didn’t look very menacing, most were shorter than TJ, but others moved fifty foot crates as though they were suit cases. A five-foot-tall giant stood atop a stack of crates and was screaming into a megaphone.
“You! Yes, you! Roman Cyclops thing! That door is the EXIT. I need you to go through THOSE doors” the giant pointed to a pair of red double doors on the opposite side of the room, “and put the supplies you just got down before you go out for another job! Understand? Good!”
The ten half bloods stood in the corner of the building taking in the chaos.
“I think,” said Annabeth, “we should go through those doors.”
It was hard not to see the logic in that, so they inched their way around the large hall towards the red doors at the back. When they got close enough, they saw another giant standing guard and taking list of everyone who went inside.
“Maybe I could use the mist…” Hazel started to suggest. She was cut off by the giant in the middle of the room.
“You lot!” he said, pointing at TJ and the others, “come here.”
The ten of them made their way over to the giant, trying to look as troll like as possible.
“You new here?” the giant asked them without to megaphone.
“Yep,” said Percy.
The giant looked them up and down.
“you’re the backup I called for that crazy mission?” he asked.
TJ almost groaned. Crazy mission. Great. Of course, there was only one answer to that.
“That’s us,” he said.
The giant snorted, which made TJ feel great about his decision. “Here’s the address,” he said, handing TJ a piece of paper. “we’ve already tried to take it by force, he has it heavily guarded. You have to convince him to give it to you.”
“Right…” said Jason. “and how do we…?”
“I don’t know. He likes war, he’s war crazy, loves anything about war. Talk about war. Bromance the guy, or romance him if that’s your thing. Just get me that bident.”
“Shouldn’t we…” said Hazel, “go inside first and…”
“You’ll go inside when you get me that weapon.”
And just like that the giant turned and started screaming at a Dracaenae.
The group went outside, feeling dejected, and found a quiet corner.
“What the helium is a bident?” asked Mallory.
“It’s a trident but only two prongs,” Jason told her.
“That’s not a thing,” said Percy.
“Yeah it is,”
Percy huffed, “You’re kidding! what’s next? An… un-dent?”
“Yeah, idiot,” said Annabeth, “it’s called a spear.”
“What’s the address?” Reyna asked.
TJ took a minute to realize she was talking to him.
“Uh,” he said awkwardly, opening the paper, “124 Roslyn Drive.”
Annabeth took out her phone and looked up the address.
“A few miles outside of town.”
There wasn’t much to discuss. None of them thought they could get through the doors unless they had something to deliver, and they couldn’t go back to camp empty handed. They had to know what Loki was doing, and he was doing it through those doors.
“Alright then,” said Percy, “let’s go commit some petty theft.”
Whoever owned the bident was loaded. His house screamed money. It was clearly new, designed to look like it was old. The pillars were painted to look worn and the bricks were sanded to look weathered.
The house itself was huge and surrounded by a giant, quite possibly electric, fence.
“That’s three acres at least,” said Frank.
“I don’t know how big that is, but I agree,” said Percy.
“Lets rob this guy,” said Mallory, “we’re already taking his bident, lets take his TV too.”
“We can’t take it outright,” Annabeth said, “that giant told us they had already tried. We have to convince him to let us in.”
The ten of them stared at the large house before them.
“I wish Piper was here,” said Jason.
TJ couldn’t help but agree. He saw how Piper had used her charm speak while they were trying to rent their cars, she could get them inside at the very least.
“Hold on,” said Mallory, she held up her hands, clearly thinking hard. “Yep. I’m a genius.”
“What?” asked Sam.
“The giant said this guy liked war right? How many of us are children of war gods?”
Annabeth, Frank, Reyna, and TJ raised their hands.
“Alright, you four,” said Mallory, “go kiss some butt.”
“What?” asked Annabeth.
“He likes war. Your guys are the literal children of war. Go flirt. Talk about war tactics or casualties, whatever works.”
“That’s insane,” said Percy, “we can’t just send them in alone.”
Annabeth, Frank, Reyna, and TJ exchanged glances.
“Well,” said Annabeth, “do we have a better idea?”
The fighting only lasted several minutes. Before he knew it, TJ found himself at the rich man’s front gate with Annabeth, Frank, and Reyna. Annabeth buzzed the intercom. The security camera above the door moved to look at them.
“Who are you? What do you want?” said a measly voice through the intercom.
“Ummm,” said Frank, “My name’s Frank, this is –”
“No,” said the voice. “nuh-uh, if you’re with those damn giants.”
“No no!” said Reyna, “in fact we’re working against them!”
TJ didn’t know where she was going, but he nodded vigorously towards the camera.
“My name is Reyna, this is Annabeth and TJ and we’re trying to put a stop to them so they won’t bother you again.”
“If we could just…” said Annabeth, “come in and talk. We would love to learn what you know about them.”
The voice was silent for a few seconds before it spoke again.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, thank you.”
Annabeth opened her mouth to argue but TJ beat her to it.
“That’s a shame,” he said, “we heard about your esteem relating to war and as children of war gods… I don’t know, I guess we were excited to learn from the expert.”
“You’re all children of war gods?” The voice was brimming with excitement.
“Athena, Mars, Bellona, and Tyr,” Annabeth told him.
After a few seconds the gate unlocked a slid open.
“Huh,” said Reyna in astonishment. And the four entered.
The entrance hall was… not what TJ was expecting.
“Wow” said Annabeth in awe.
The walls were filled from ceiling to floor with battle strategy spreadsheets and blueprints. Although none like TJ had ever seen before. They seemed to be detailed breakdowns of already existing battles.
“Huh,” said Reyna, “I expected more—”
“Weapons and stuffed heads?” TJ finished.
“Welcome! Welcome welcome welcome.” A tall and slender man bounced down the hallway in a pinstriped suit.
TJ’s eyes hurt just looking at the man. The strips in his suit were orange and purple with a purple top hat and orange tie. He was white, and the mansion’s fluorescence lights seemed to make him glow.
“Well don’t just stand there,” said the man. “Come come come.”
The man turned and bounced back up the hall leading the way.
“He likes saying things three times.” Reyna whispered.
“He does, he does, he does,” TJ responded.
Reyna laughed which made TJ trip over a poorly placed umbrella stand.
Good job Thomas, he thought.
The battle sketches covered every wall in the mansion. The four of them stared at the indecipherable dots and squiggles as they were led through the large halls. Every once in a while there would be a locked glass case with a suit of armor or an old revolutionary war cannon. Eventually they were led into a large room with a table and chairs.
“So,” said the colorful man clapping his hands together. “Who do I have the pleasure of doing business with?”
Annabeth took the reigns, “this is Frank, Reyna and TJ,” she said, “and I’m Annabeth.”
TJ was not paying very close attention. He just realized that the war plans in this room were moving. The little dot soldiers were running around in their frames. When a soldier died they turned gray. Most ended with the retreat of one side off the picture and then the battle reset.
“Nice to meet you all!” said the man. “You can call me Gibson. My first name is Emmanuel, and I’ve always thought that was a stupid name –”
TJ stopped listening. He decided he hated this man. Walking around the room studying the war maps he found a glass case that was built into the wall. Inside stood a brilliant golden bident on a pedestal. The handle was embroidered with what looked like rubies, giving the weapon an aura of red. In the middle, a wild boar’s head stared back at TJ.
“It seems that TJ,” said Gibson, “has already found what you have come to talk about.” He stepped next to TJ, looking into the case with a strange kind of hunger.
“That’s my father’s symbol,” Frank said, looking at the boar’s head.”
Gibson nodded. “Well, technically it’s Ares. The Bident of Ares”
Annabeth and Reyna both looked very impressed. TJ, on the other hand, was getting really tired of Greek mythology. If only he had taken the Greek and Roman mythology course at Valhalla. But no, he had to learn Korean instead. Because that’s helpful.
“Wasn’t that lost centuries ago?” asked Annabeth.
Gibson nodded, “It was stolen when Ares was looking over the battle between Sparta and the Persians. By Ephialtes. That’s why they lost. I found it in modern day Iran a long time ago. It’s rumored that it can change the course of a single battle, although I’ve never tested it.”
“Wow,” said Frank, “that would be—”
“Really useful,” TJ finished.
“Hm,” Gibson said thoughtfully. “Well. We’re here to talk about those terrible thieves, yes? And, of course, I want to hear all about your parents. I’ll make us some tea!”
Gibson scurried out of the room like an excited Chihuahua about to pee on the floor.
When Gibson closed the door behind him, TJ spoke.
“I hate him.”
“What? Why?” said Annabeth.
“Why!? Because…” TJ gestured to the doorway, unable to put his thoughts into words.
“I mean, sure, he’s a little bouncy—” said Frank.
“That’s not… I mean… there’s something going on with him.”
“I agree with TJ,” said Reyna. “Spidey senses are tingling.”
“Why?” said Frank, “he doesn’t even have severed heads on his walls. He doesn’t like war in the bloody sense, he likes it in the strategic sense.”
“And, he doesn’t like the giants. We don’t have to steal from him after all, we can talk to him. He probably wants to stop Loki as much as we do.”
TJ shrugged as Gibson bounced back into the room with a platter holding a teakettle and matching tea cups.
“Here you are. And one for you and you.”
When they all had tea, which TJ almost gagged on, Annabeth started off the conversation.
“How long has Loki been setting up shop in Philadelphia?”
“Oh, a few weeks now. It’s been very annoying,” Gibson took a long swig of tea.
“They’re building something under Independence Hall. There’s some sort of Greek temple there.”
Gibson started asking Annabeth about her mom as TJ let his eyes wander around the room again. He noticed something about the battle maps. On the winning side of each battle one of the little dots glowed brighter than the others. When TJ followed that particular dot he noticed it always broke rank. That soldier always went against orders, or took initiative, and they ended up winning the battle for their side.
TJ glanced from map to map, watching the bright dot win the battle. Sometimes it was obvious, they would set off an explosive or fight one on one with the other side’s general. Sometimes it was harder to notice. In one map, the bright dot suddenly died in the middle of a group of enemy fighters, killing them all as well. They must have strapped a bomb onto their chest… Not exactly something TJ thought should be mounted on a wall.
TJ’s eyes landed on one map in particular. Near the door that Gibson had walked through, a map depicted a trench fight. Each side stood in a straight line facing the other. Every once in a while a soldier would drop dead, most likely because of artillery. The winning side (the one with the bright dot) outnumbered the other side by about ten soldiers, but in trench warfare that hardly mattered. Quite suddenly, the bright dot, who was on the far right of the trench, suddenly breaks the line and charges toward the other side. The idiot kills one enemy dot before dying himself, but the entire winning side charges in after him.
Most of the losing side moved towards the right because that was where the first attack came from, so the left side that charged was able to get into their trench, forcing the losers to retreat.
“What about you TJ?” asked Gibson.
“What?” he asked taking his eyes off the map.
“What’s Tyr like?”
“Oh,” TJ glanced back at the map, picking at the piece of shrapnel in his head, “I – uh – only met him once. Wasn’t a very long conversation.”
“Oh. That’s too bad.” Gibson glanced at the map TJ was staring at. “You like that one huh? Me too.”
Gibson stood and took a few steps towards the picture. “It’s the assault on—”
“Fort Wagner. Yeah. I know.”
Gibson and TJ’s friends stared at him.
“Yes,” said Gibson with astonishment.
TJ looked away from the map and accidentally made eye contact with Annabeth.
“How do you know that?” she asked.
“TJ…” Gibson said, “that wouldn’t happen to stand for Thomas Jefferson would it?”
TJ swallowed and nodded. He didn’t make eye contact. He didn’t want to be here. He would rather be back on the bus. To his disgust, Gibson laughed.
It wasn’t a sarcastic or hurtful laugh, more of a laugh of pure joy.
“That’s you!” he exclaimed. “You’re the one! You broke ranks, you won the battle!”
“No… I broke ranks and got shot in the chest fifty times.”
“Yes but look what you started!”
“Oh we must talk. Wait here, I’ll get more tea.”
Gibson scurried out of the room again. The minute he closed the door TJ turned to his friends.
“Okay, time to go.”
“That’s you?!” said Annabeth.
“Really Really time to go.”
“TJ, that’s really cool.”
“Cool, creepy, whatever.”
“TJ, this might be good,” said Frank.
“How? How how how is this good?”
“We could really use the bident. Maybe if you help us get on his good side he’d let us borrow it. We could tear down Loki’s entire operation with it.”
“He likes you,” Annabeth told him, “If you play it right it could be a favor for a friend thing.”
“This isn’t a possible friendship thing. This is an obsession thing and it’s freaking me out.”
“Reyna?” asked Frank.
TJ looked at Reyna. She was being very silent.
“I… I don’t know.”
TJ stared at her. She had agreed with him about Gibson so far and she knew Frank and Annabeth better. She would be able to reason with them.
“I think Gibson’s a freak. And I think whatever’s going on with him and TJ is far from innocent but… we also really need that bident.”
She looked at TJ with an apology behind her eyes. TJ sighed. He didn’t like this. Give him a fight, and he was there. But he felt… exposed. Like this man knew everything about him.
“Yeah, fine, whatever.” It would be good to have the bident… He thought about why Magnus had died. Why Alex had died. Why Mallory had died. “Anything to stop Loki.”
Gibson opened the door. “Follow me,” he said excitedly, “I want to show you something.”
They followed him through the halls of his mansion. Gibson pulled TJ next to him and put his arm around his shoulders which made TJ very uncomfortable. He marched TJ into a room that was a bit smaller than the one they left. The wall and ceiling were decorated with intricate octagon designs. The walls were lined with stone statues dressed in different kinds of battle uniforms from a full chainmail suit of armor to a modern-day marine. There were about thirty in all.
Gibson led them to the table in the middle of the room, giving each of them another cup of tea, which TJ woefully accepted and took a sip of. He picked at his shrapnel some more.
“So,” said Gibson, taking a sip of his own tea, “the Boston regiment huh?”
“Uh, yeah, one of them.”
“That must have been exciting.”
“I don’t know much about you. I mean, all I could get from your records was name and rank. And of course the color of your skin.”
“Were you born in boston?”
“Virginia.” TJ took a sip of tea.
TJ choked on his tea, which took him several seconds to recover from.
“Yeah.” He was starting to feel dizzy, probably from the whiplash; he was black and was born in Virginia of course he was a slave. He hated Gibson.
“And I’m guessing you’re an Einherji.”
“Wonderful,” Gibson was literally giggling with excitement.
“So,” said TJ, “how many times have they tried to steal the bident.”
No, the confederates, TJ thought.
“Oh several dozen times. But don’t worry. My security system is state of the art.”
“Oh good.” TJ took another sip of tea just so he had something to do.
“We could help you put an end to that,” said Annabeth. She locked eyes with TJ. It took him a few good seconds to realize she was giving him an opening.
“Right!” he said, shaking his head slightly. He was really feeling ill now, he had a funny feeling it was the effects of Gibson’s striped suit. It made him want to throw up, he could only imagine what Blitzen would have to say about it. “We’d love to put a stop to them entirely.”
“I’d like to see that.”
“Yes…” TJ took another sip and leaned against the table trying to gather his thoughts, “…yes, well, ironically, the best way to insure we’d win is with the bident.”
“Hmm. Yes,” said Gibson, “of course it is terribly difficult to use. It has to be activated by a worthy warrior at the pivotal moment of the battle, otherwise it’s useless.”
“Yeah, well.” TJ didn’t want to say it. Words could not describe how much TJ did not want to say the words that were coming out of his mouth. “I’ve been known to spot pivotal moments before.”
Yuck. Yuck. Yuck, he thought as he took another sip of tea so he wouldn’t laugh at himself. Yeah, as long as a guy calls you an N word and challenges you at the exact pivotal moment.
“Hmm,” said Gibson thoughtfully. “Well, I’ll tell you what I tell everyone who comes here in need of the bident. I’ll give it to you, if you can beat my champions.”
“Your champions?” asked Reyna.
Okay, TJ was starting to feel really weird. Like, worse than just social awkwardness kind of weird. He was having trouble seeing. The room was starting to spin.
“Oh yes,” Gibson was saying. “I’m quite proud of them. The best part of my little collection.”
TJ dropped his tea cup. The tea, he thought, something was in his tea.
“TJ?” asked Reyna.
TJ couldn’t tell her. The room was getting dark. The octagons on the walls were moving and bouncing. He collapsed to the ground.
“Oh my gods!” shouted Annabeth.
There was a slight shuffle before TJ heard a loud bang and the scrape of stone on stone. He couldn’t move his head, so he simply stared at the ceiling, but he knew the statues in the room had just come alive and drawn weapons on his friends.
“I think it’s time for you three to go,” Gibson said in the first serious tone TJ had heard exit his mouth.
TJ was barely able to think I told you so before he slid out of consciousness.
TJ woke up on a thin cot starring up at a plain white ceiling. He sat up, ignoring the pain in his head, and looked around. He was in a small room, about twelve feet by six feet, which included a sink, a small mirror above it, a toilet. One wall was made entirely of glass (probably bullet proof, and TJ was in no mood to test it) which let him look out into a circle arena. The sides of the arena were rooms just like his, some even had other people inside.
Gibson’s Champions, he thought.
TJ stood and looked out at the other captives. They could all see each other. They could see each other sleep and undress. There was no privacy. They were slaves, plain and simple. TJ was a slave again, a collectable.
Most of the others were around his age. The oldest he could see looked about twenty-five. Few were white. A man in a revolutionary war jacket was clearly Native American, another looked Korean, a few were Hispanic. In fact, TJ only saw two white people. One, a kid younger than TJ with long blonde hair, and the other, the only woman TJ could spot from his point at the circle. He counted close to fifteen kids. About half the cells were full. Gibson was building a collection, and TJ was just another item.
He stumbled a few feet and looked into the mirror. He hated what looked back at him. It had been a long time since TJ had hated the color of his own skin. It took him years in Valhalla to understand he wasn’t any lesser than any other ethnicity. But now that all crumbled apart. He was lesser than Gibson, for the simple reason that TJ was locked up and Gibson had the key. He was lesser than Annabeth or Percy or Jason, because they were free and he wasn’t. For the first time in a long time, TJ wasn’t free.
He punched the mirror, tears rolling down his cheeks. It shattered, tearing up his hand. The shards fell into the sink and TJ stared at them. He couldn’t be a slave. He would never be a slave again. He picked up one of the shards of mirror and held the sharp edge against his wrist. He stared at it. The shard of mirror against the blue veins. No Valhalla this time. He would go to Helium. Maybe it wasn’t so bad, at least he would never be enslaved again. Never be in a war.
“Come on Thomas,” he told himself, “I challenge you.”
Tears streamed down his face. What would his friends say when they found he never gave them a chance at a rescue? Mallory and Half Born and Sam, they would never leave him in this place. Not forever. He dropped the shard and collapsed to the ground. He cried. He sobbed. He couldn’t breath.
It was the first time he backed down from a challenge.
Leo woke up cold, which didn’t happen to him often (his internal body temperature was very warm). That alone made him sit straight up in panic.
“Where am I?” he asked stupidly.
“Oh good.” Blitzen sighed in relief. “I was afraid you weren’t going to wake up.”
Leo slowly remembered what had happened. Khione. Loki. Captured. Right. They sat in a small cave that was… well small. And cold. It had a little window in a top corner about three inches tall and a foot wide. Leo assumed it was for air. He couldn’t see a door. There wasn’t even a straw mattress like in the movies. Did Loki have no sense of artistic cliché?
“I think we’re in Jotunheim,” Blitzen told him. “Jotunheim’s got a weird kind of rock.”
Leo didn’t know what that meant but he moved on.
“Has anyone been in?”
“No. I tried to tunnel us out – dwarves have a thing with making tunnels – but the walls must be enchanted…”
Blitzen shifted and Leo noticed his hands. He had wrapped his tie and handkerchief around each of them. Blood was soaking through the fabric.
“Did the enchantment do that?”
Blitzen shoved his hands in his pockets. He winced when he moved them but brushed it off.
“It’s nothing,” he said.
Leo stopped talking for a few painful seconds.
“Well… If I’m so ‘in demand’ where’s the five-star treatment?”
“This isn’t a joke, kid,” Blitzen told him. “Loki’s going to make you set him free. It’s going to be long, backbreaking work and it’s not gonna be fun.”
Leo shifted so his back was better positioned against the wall. “I’m gonna be late for school next week.”
Blitzen huffed and looked away from Leo. He didn’t realize that sarcasm was Leo’s last line of defense in a crisis. And the sad part was that he wasn’t entirely sarcastic.
He cared about school. Like, more than a teenager should care about school. He was finally doing well. He liked his classes and his teachers. He was in engineers’ club where they programed little robots to walk through mazes and he loved it. He wanted to go to college. He secretly dreamed about MIT. And that meant he couldn’t just drop out of school at sixteen.
Leo was furious. Loki was going to make him drop out of school. He had hurt Blitzen’s hands. And Leo could do nothing to stop him.
He reached toward his waist and realized he was allowed to keep his tool belt. Not that Leo could break out of a cell that had no door with or without it. But he reached in a took out Bambi’s tracking device.
The fact that Bambi could have made it in just a few hours shocked Leo. It would have to be so intricate and complex. Leo wanted to see how Bambi had made the energy source so fast. He pried open the top and looked inside.
“That cheater,” said Leo.
“He didn’t finish it.”
“He doesn’t have an energy source! The thing doesn’t work! The little scumbag cheated!”
“Leo, you threw the contest on purpose, what doesn’t matter?”
“He didn’t win with integrity!”
“and you didn’t lose with integrity. And we didn’t even manage to escape. Why do you care?”
Leo grumbled incoherently in an answer and Blitzen sighed and closed his eyes. Leo took out some converters and some double-A batteries. Without really thinking about it, he was fixing Bambi’s design so it would actually work.
Leo finished working on Bambi’s device and then moved on to making little toy cars. He wished Loki would just get on with it. He was bored.
Finally, after hours, a door formed out of the rock and Khione walked into the room. The temperature immediately dropped another ten degrees.
“Well, come on,” she said coldly.
Leo stood up and stepped forward, assuming Khione would lead the way. She didn’t move.
“You too, dwarf.”
Blitzen looked up at Khione, confusion in his eyes. Khione just stared at him, waiting. Blitzen stumbled to his feet. Leo could see more blood around his hands. Khione gestured for them to lead the way.
Leo supported Blitzen slightly as they walked along a small path. Khione followed behind them. There was only one direction to go, so the three of them marched along. At the end of the tunnel there was a yellowish light. For some reason, it looked ominous. Leo really did not want to get closer the the light.
“So Khione,” Leo said, “never took you for a worker bee. What’s making you work for Loki?”
Khione laughed. “Oh, I have my reasons.”
Well that didn’t work, Leo thought bitterly.
They reached the cavern where the yellow light shined through. The source of the light came through a wall of thick glass like an observatory window. They stood slightly above a large working space filled with forges and monsters moving carts. At first glance, it looked like cars in a traffic jam. This must be the place Alex had seen in her dream.
“Leo, Blitzen, welcome.” Loki sat on a high chair that resembled a throne. The entire room was white, like, we-hurt-your-eyes-to-prove-how-rich-we-are kind of white. There was only one other door, which must have led down to the work station.
There was however, on thing in the room that wasn’t white. It was perhaps the oldest sack of bones Leo had ever seen. Junior. He sat on a couch across from Loki, looking very shaken.
“Please,” said Loki, “sit. We have much to talk about.”
Leo and Blitzen sat down on the couch. All Leo knew about Junior was that he had a huge rivalry with Blitzen, so he decided to sit in the middle.
“Welcome.” Loki smiled with pure joy.
Leo glanced out the window again. All this to break a few lousy chains? He could feel the dwarves on either side of him. Blitzen was tense, his back straight, as though ready for an attack. Junior, on the other hand, was as closed to a fetal position as he could manage while staying upright and in his seat.
“I’ve been wanting to talk with you three for quite some time now,” Loki continued.
Blitzen huffed slightly. Leo knew what he was thinking, Loki had gone to great lengths to get Leo and Junior but the only thing he did to Blitzen was get him sentenced to death for murder.
“Oh, Blitzen, you are too hard on yourself.” Loki had obviously heard Blitzen’s huff. “You’re skills are much appreciated. I have always wanted you as part of the team.”
Blitzen looked as though he was having a vicious argument inside his head. Finally, Blitzen went against his better judgment and spoke.
“—tried to have me killed,” he muttered.
“Oh, don’t be like that.” Loki laid back in his chair, “why do you think Khione was in Nidavellir? The plan was always to rescue you before the execution. Or, even better, have Leo and his friends do it for us.”
“Oh, yeah, in that case you just wanted to kill Hearth.”
Loki’s eyes grew cold. It became very clear that Blitzen should stop talking.
“Well, Hearthstone is not dead,” Loki said with a smile that did not reach his eyes, “and now we can get to business.”
“Junior will in be charge of weapons. I need the best, and I swear these weapons made but Roman Cyclops’s are nothing compared to the Greek one’s I’ve heard such good things about. Turns out there is a difference between the two mythologies, who knew? Blitzen will obviously be in charge of the armor. As for Leo, I have a—”
“Wait what?” Leo asked.
Blitzen elbowed him (which Leo thought was fairly hypocritical).
“Problem, Leo?” Loki asked.
Leo didn’t dare answer. Armor? Weapons? And all those forges outside the window… This was bigger than just setting Loki free.
“No,” Leo told him.
“Alright, as for you I’ve got a tricky little machine that needs to be fine-tuned. I’m sure you’ll do just wonderfully at it.”
Leo stopped himself from squirming uncomfortably. He tried to calm himself down. Piper, Magnus, and Alex were on there way the now. Odds are he had been asleep for a while which meant it was probably more than 24 hours since they had all separated. Alex had told them they would be back at Camp Half Blood within a few days. That had to mean they would reach Loki’s fortress thing soon right? They were the three most powerful demigods Leo had met, as a combined force they had charm speak, a shape shifter, healing powers, a magic sword that can’t die, and the ability to turn into the sun. They could help Leo and Blitzen.
“Of course, the machine’s not here, so we’ll be leaving right away.”
Dammit! They were leaving Jotunheim. There goes Leo’s genius plan of doing nothing and being recued. Where were they going? How was anyone going to find them?
“We’ll need to blindfold you to get there. My deepest apologies, but you can’t take security lightly, you know?”
Leo felt as though he was about to hyperventilate. He didn’t understand why, but he saw the danger he was in at that moment superior than every other danger he had faced. Maybe it was because he was an actual prisoner of war, he had never really been captured before. Maybe it was Loki’s…togetherness. Every monster Leo had ever faced had one thing in common. Sure, they were all ten times as powerful but they were also ten times as stupid. Leo could get those monsters talking, he knew their plans, Loki was too smart. His plan had too many layers. Or it could have been because Leo was finally getting used to a normal life and now, well, whatever his life was it was not normal.
Leo hadn’t even realized that Loki had gone through an entire conversation and was now at the door, talking to a Cyclops.
Think, Leo, think.
He was shaking. They needed to be rescued. Leo couldn’t even fathom coming up with an escape strategy. But none of their friends knew where they were. Depending on how dire the situation was back home, Leo’s friends might not even know they were missing.
“So Blitzen,” Loki said as he turned the Cyclops away and walked back to his throne-like chair. “Let me fix your hands and we’ll be on our way.”
Leo looked at Blitzen, his jaw was set and his eyes hard. Somehow, Leo knew what he was going to say before he said it.
Loki’s eyes turned cold. Clearly, that was the wrong thing to say.
“Healing is in the eye of the beholder,” Blitzen said, “And I like my hands like this.”
Leo looked at Blitzen’s hands. They were bloody and broken. It occurred to Leo that Blitzen had broken them on purpose, to make sure he couldn’t help Loki. Leo remembered Alex telling the group about magical healing; a person could only be healed if they wanted to be.
“You’re going to let me fix your hands.”
Loki seemed very close to spontaneous combustion. Leo thought he was going to kill Blitzen right there and then. Instead, he smiled.
“Well, you’ll have to work twice as hard to make up for it. Excuse me a moment.”
Loki disappeared into thin air. Leo had the sudden mental image of Loki pulling a Kylo Ren freak-out session somewhere above them.
Leo shifted over on the couch to face Blitzen. He had no real thoughts about trying to escape. Loki was smarter than to let him.
“What are you doing?”
“Being rebellious. It’s actually rather refreshing.”
“But Blitz, your hands. Eventually their gonna start to heal like that and no one’s going to be able to fix them.”
“They must hurt, do they hurt? Did you do this to yourself on purpose?”
“I—may have tried to tunnel us out a little harder than necessary but I’m not playing Loki’s game. And… No, they don’t really hurt that much. I think I did something to the nerves in my hands.”
Getting a good look at them Leo could see they were horribly deformed and crooked. The bleeding had almost stopped, by the looks of things, but Leo didn’t know why it would be unless…
“Are they already starting to heal?”
“Yeah. Dwarf plus demigod means the healing process is a little fast.”
“But they’re healing wrong! Blitzen, if they heal like that you’ll never be able to sew again! You’ve got a business that’s popular with the Aphrodite cabin! Trust me, that’s a big deal.”
“He’s right,” said a wryly voice next to Leo.
“Hi, Junior is it?” Leo asked sarcastically turning back to Blitzen.
“You’re an idiot to throw away your talented hands,” Junior continued.
Blitzen raised his eyebrows. So did Leo. For a horrible dwarf with a hatred for Blitzen, that was one big complement.
“Besides,” said Junior, “Losing you won’t even slow Loki down.”
And suddenly it’s an insult, thought Leo, how do people do that?
“Gee-thanks, but I know what I’m doing.”
Leo thought through all the reasons why Blitzen should let Loki heal his hands. Because it would destroy his future not to, because even trivial tasks would be challenging. Because it sounded icky and painful that’s why!
“What about Hearth?” he asked Blitzen.
“What about him?”
“You’ll never be able to use ASL again. At least not at the same level. You’ll be sacrificing conversations with him.”
He hit the right place. Blitzen stared off at nothing in particular. He was silent for a long time before he spoke again.
“With these hands I might be able to postpone whatever Loki’s planning for at least a little while. That gives Hearth a better chance of living to forty. I’ll take Hearth’s life over communication any day.”
Leo turned away and crossed his arms like an annoyed child. Because he was, godsdammit! He was annoyed and a child and completely helpless. He couldn’t save the world, he couldn’t save himself, he couldn’t even save Blitzen’s hands. Maybe if their friends found them in time Magnus could convince Blitzen to let him heal his hands. But they were leaving Jotunheim and the others had no way of knowing they were even captured.
If Leo was in a cartoon, a light bulb would have miraculously appeared over his head. He had a plan. He quickly took out Bambi’s tracking device, then reached out and (painfully) ripped out a few of his hairs. He stuck them into the machine and calibrated it.
Leo had just hidden the small device under the couch before Loki came back in, followed by Khione.
“Sorry for the sudden change of venue.” Loki said. “I assumed we’d be able to spend more time here. Fortunately, we’re ahead of schedule. So,” Loki held up three blindfolds, “are you going to put these on or is Khione going to have to put you to sleep again?”
“What do you mean two days?”
How did Nico get this job? Weren’t there at least fifty campers more qualified to handle this? His first pick would have been Will, but of course Will was still working on Hearthstone the elf, but there were others that took residence at this godsdamned camp, right?
“Well, less than two days,” Nico assured the stressed teenager in front of him.
“Fine,” she huffed. Her hair was falling out of it’s ponytail and she was waving her arms around in exasperation. “Then why don’t you tell me exactly what’s going on.”
Chiron would be good at this job, calm and collected, but no, he was called up to Mount Olympus to brief the gods on what was happening at camp. So, of course, the job of calming down a stressed teenaged girl went to the son of the underworld.
Nico shifted and sighed, “There are Norse demigods now, and Norse… I don’t know, universes? Anyway, some of the Norse demigods – well technically it was an elf and a dwarf – they were trapped in the dwarf universe and their lives were in danger; I’m still not really clear why. So, anyway, about half of the Norse half-bloods went to rescue them, along with Piper and Leo, and… well… they had to come back separately, because of…reasons. So the Norse Half-Blood that could teleport between universes – did I not mention her? – She was only powerful enough to bring back the elf, Hearthstone, because his life was in immediate danger. Piper and two of the Norse demigods: Annabeth’s cousin Magnus and his girlfriend/boyfriend Alex went after the Norse god Loki in yet another Norse universe while the dwarf and Leo were going to come back through Boston, which apparently is like the train station into this universe, and rent a car back.”
Nico almost cringed at his attempt to explain the last few days.
“Alright,” said Calypso, “and how long was this supposed to take?”
“About six hours from the time that Sam and Hearthstone got here.”
“Which was how many hours ago?”
“And you’re telling me that NO ONE HAS DONE ANYTHING?”
“Like what?” Nico asked in the monotone voice he got when he felt threatened.
“Well, where are all these Norse Demigods?! Huh?! Shouldn’t they be able to DO SOMETHING?”
Nico understood why she was upset. If it were him in her place and Will in Leo’s, Nico would have punched someone already. He just didn’t enjoy how her version of upset was so loud.
Nico got ready for that punch. Instead her voice was very soft.
“When Reyna came over from California she said she noticed a lot of activity there. Like monster wise.”
“Well then,” Calypso snapped, “why don’t we send them an Iris message and figure out what the hell is going on.”
“Iris messages aren’t working right now.”
“Phones aren’t working either.”
“WELL THERE HAS TO BE SOMETHING!”
“Yeah sure! Let me just call the Doctor and borrow the Tardis. We can go right now.”
Calypso opened her mouth furiously, them snapped it shut. She did this for a while before she sighed.
“Can I talk to someone I can scare?” she asked.
“Trust me, I’m utterly terrified.”
The two of them shifted awkwardly for a time. When it seemed as though Calypso had calmed down enough to resume normal conversation Nico spoke again.
“There is the elf, Hearthstone. He probably knows a little more about the whole Norse universe thing, but –”
“Perfect! Let’s go, where is he?”
“He’s in the medic tent. But—”
Calypso turned on her heals and marched off toward the medic tent.
Nico jogged after her.
“Calypso!” Will said happily, “I didn’t know you were here.”
“She wants to talk to Hearthstone,” Nico told him, noting the dark circles under his eyes.
Will’s smile faltered slightly. “He’s still pretty weak, and there are… other complications.”
By the look on Calypso’s face, she didn’t care. Will shrugged and led them into the center of the med tent.
Hearthstone was sitting up, studying a few runes on the table next to his bed. His cheeks were shallow and the area around his eyes were slightly purple (compared to the paleness of his skin, it looked as though he had two black eyes). Still, he looked better than he had after casting the protective enchantments around the camp. The poor guy had collapsed; his heart had stopped. Will had had to use a resuscitator to bring him back.
“Excuse me? Mr. Hearthstone?” Calypso asked behind the elf’s back.
“You didn’t tell her?” Will asked.
“She ran away before I could.”
“What?” Asked Calypso.
Calypso looked at them, Hearthstone, and then back.
“How are we supposed to talk to him?”
“Well Blitzen, the dwarf, was supposed to get here before Hearth even regained consciousness and translate to sign language but…”
Hearthstone seemed to sense there were people in the room, he turned around and looked at them.
“Hi,” said Calypso loudly, “my name’s Calypso.”
“I don’t think shouting makes a difference,” Nico said.
She gave him a hateful glance and continued in a normal volume.
Nico noticed the pause before girlfriend, as if she was unsure.
“I was just wondering if…since you know about Norse Mythology…if you had a better clue on where Leo and Blitzen might be?”
Hearthstone looked dejected. He sighed slightly and pointed to the runes in front of him. Nico, Calypso, and Will all moved around the bed to get a view of the small stones on the bed side table. Hearth took out a pad of paper and a pen. He bit his lip and then wrote.
Don’t know where they are. These are fortune runes. Tell the future of one person. Usually only work if the person is with you. But I know Blitzen so well
Hearth stopped writing, the pen becoming limp in his hands. Will put his hands on the elf’s shoulder. Nico suddenly wondered if Blitzen and Hearth were more than just friends.
“What does it say?” asked Calypso softly after getting Hearth’s attention.
Hearth picked up his pen again.
This section, he gestured to the top three runes, refers to a jump in status or a shift of importance. Then these gesturing to another two runes, means war. Or warrior. These, jabbing the pen at another two runes, means fear, gesturing to the first, and a rough translation of stubbornness.
“What about those?” Asked Calypso.
Hearth looked away from her, bowing his head. After a few moments, Nico realized he had tears on his cheeks. Hearth finally wrote with a shaky hand:
An injury or maiming.
Will looked at Nico. He still had his hand on Hearth’s shoulder and he sat down on the bed next to him. His message to Nico was clear: I’ll comfort him, you comfort her.
Wonderful, Nico thought.
He shifted over to Calypso, who was hugging herself, staring at the ground.
“Hey,” Nico began.
She didn’t answer.
“Look, just because Blitzen got hurt doesn’t mean Leo’s hurt.”
“Loki wanted Leo. We think so Leo could let him free. That means they wouldn’t hurt him.”
Calypso turned and walked away. Will looked up.
“Hff, you’re useless. Make sure Hearth doesn’t get out of bed.”
Will ran after Calypso.
Hearth looked at Nico. Nico attempted a smile. They seemed to understand each other and Hearth laid down on his bed and rolled over. It was oblivious he would not sleep but Nico pretended to be fooled.
He paced the tent, looking at nothing in particular. Finally, something caught his eye. A letter sat on Will’s medical table. John Hopkins.
Nico looked at the tent’s entrance, then grabbed the letter and looked inside. It was already open.
Nico quickly read through the letter. Will had gotten in, but he didn’t get any of the scholarships he had asked for.
“Shit,” Nico muttered. Will needed a lot of scholarships. Charon had offered to pay for a fraction of the tuition but Will still needed close to a full ride in order to get into afford the trip to college. The problem was he didn’t qualify for financial aid because, legally, he was still reliant on his mother. Sure, she wasn’t rich, but she had enough money to get Will through college. The only problem was that she was a horrible person who wanted a “normal kid” instead of a Half Blood.
Nico quickly shoved the letter back in the envelope. After a few minutes, Will came back in.
“She won’t talk to me. I’ll try again a little later.”
“Where is she?”
“On the beach by the lake. What’s Hearth doing.”
“Wallowing in his sorrow.”
“Hey do you think there’s something going on there?”
“Between Blitzen and Hearth.”
Will shrugged, “Maybe. Odds are we’ll be the last to know.”
There was a slight silence.
“I’m going to try talking to Calypso again,” Will said.
“No, I’ll do it.”
Will raised his brow. “You’ll be nice?”
Nico walked past Will and stopped. He kissed him on the cheek, just a comforting kind of kiss. They would talk about money later. They could make a Go-Fund-Me or something like that.
Nico walked through the camp toward the beach. Lots of kids were playing volleyball or talking near the cabins. The enchantments Hearthstone had cast over the camp kept out every kind of monster that came by. None of the campers were at all afraid anymore.
“Hey,” he said when he reached Calypso.
“Gods,” she snapped, “what are you a tag team?”
Nico sat down in the sand next to her. “Why’d you hesitate before you said you were Leo’s girlfriend? Were you two having problems? Why didn’t you come to the reunion they had?”
“I didn’t realize this was an interrogation.”
Nico didn’t say anything. He just waited. Finally, she sighed.
“I told Leo I didn’t want to intrude. I told him to tell the group that I needed to catch up on homework.”
“What was the real reason?”
“I needed to catch up on homework.”
“I—I’m not doing all that well in school. I’m trying but… I don’t know, I just don’t get it. I’m not interested in any of my classes. I can’t help but think that…I’m a titian, I’ve fought gods…”
“Why do you need to learn algebra?”
“I get it.”
“The problem is that… well, Leo really cares about school. He’s participating. He goes to engineer’s club with all the engineer geeks and gets straight A’s and tries really really hard.”
Calypso turned to look at Nico. “I found an MIT brochure in his back pack. I looked at the GPA required to get in and he could do it if he picks up some summer classes to make up some lost time.”
“Well that’s good.”
“Yeah… And he always wants to study with me and go to school activities. And I just… don’t see the point.”
“So drop out.”
“Because school is all Leo wants to talk about. Don’t get me wrong, I love that about him. He’s so passionate. I’m just afraid that he’ll stop talking to me about that sort of stuff if I admit I don’t like school. That he’ll stop spending time with me. We’re so different. I’m starting to get worried that… I don’t know, that he’ll get bored.”
“How do you know?”
“Have you seen me and my boyfriend? We’re complete opposites. We still get along. He’s going to med school. I haven’t been to school since… I’ve never been to school.”
“And the conversation doesn’t lull?”
“Not unless I want it to.” Nico thought for a second. “So let me get this straight. You’re afraid Leo’s is the one who’s going to loose interest with this relationship?”
“Yeah, why the tone?”
“No, really what.”
“Well it’s just that you’re a beautiful titian goddess person and he’s…”
“Well, he’s a bit of a nerd.”
“Says the guy dishing out the Doctor Who references.”
Nico laughed, “you know what I’m saying.”
Calypso was silent for a time. It felt a bit strange, giving relationship advice, but Nico figured that’s what you do when you’re in a healthy relationship.
“Well,” Calypso said finally, “none of this means anything if he’s dead in a ditch somewhere.”
Nico looked out at the water nodding slightly. Will is going to be so pissed, he thought.
“Well, then let’s go find him.”
Nico stood up and brushed himself off.
“What?” asked Calypso, “how?”
“Well, if Loki’s got stuff cooking in Philadelphia that means he’s got to have people stationed there who know something. Seems like a good place to start. Plus, the other Norse Demigods are there.”
“You want to go to Philadelphia?”
“I don’t think anyone really cares what I want.”
“But… Philadelphia is like… three hours away.”
“You want to fly?”
“Gods no, Zeus will kill me.”
Nico turned and headed back towards the medic tent.
Calypso scrambled to her feet and followed him.
“How do you feel about a trip to Philadelphia,” Nico asked Will and Hearth once he was sure Hearth could read his lips.
Hearth perked up immediately, obviously onboard. Will on the other hand looked confused.
“How would we get there?” he asked. “And please don’t say your undead driver.”
“His name is Jules-Albert, and no.”
Nico could tell the exact moment realization struck Will.
“I can –”
“No shadow travel!”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve used it, I’m sure I can manage.”
“You can’t carry three people all the way to Philadelphia!”
Hearth, who had somehow been following their conversation knocked on the table. Nico and Will both looked at him. He held up four fingers.
“No…” said Will, “you can’t come you need to rest.”
Hearth raised his eyebrows in an oh yeah? Kind of way.
“I can’t fight you all at the same time.”
“Will,” Nico said, “I can do this. I don’t want to sit this out do you?”
Will looked at Nico for a while. Then he sighed.
“Fine, but you’re drinking that medicine you hate before we go.”
Nico bit back a complaint and settled for his miracle.
Nico had dutifully swallowed his medicine and Clarisse and the Stoll brother were put in charge. Will, Calypso, Hearthstone, and Nico packed supplies and prepared to set out. Evening was approaching, so there were plenty of shadows. Nico had attached himself to a harness so the others had an easier chance holding on. They tied Hearth to him, just incase he wasn’t strong enough to maintain a grip for the entire trip.
“Alright,” said Nico. “Everybody good?”
Nico didn’t wait for a response, with a turn in his gut the four of them collapsed into darkness.
TJ hadn’t moved in hours. He laid curled up on the floor, as though not lying on the cot was an act of defiance. He cried for a few minutes. Then he stopped. He just stared at the small pipes under the sink in his cage.
After a few hours he felt a tap on his shoulder. His reflexes were quick, in a second he was on his feet, his left arm pinned them to the wall while his left held a shard of mirror to their throat.
TJ found himself facing a terrified, skinny, Asian boy. The kid couldn’t have been older than fourteen. TJ sighed and stepped back, releasing him. The boy stepped to the side and slipped out of the room without a word.
The window had disappeared, and the other champions were in the arena. A table had appeared in the center that was set with plates of food. TJ didn’t join them.
He sat on his cot and brooded. He starred at the wall ignoring the pit in his stomach. He hadn’t eaten since the stop at McDonalds after they had left Camp Half Blood.
There were a few taps by the opening of his cell. TJ looked over and saw the white girl he had seen before standing at the entrance.
“Thought I’d do this from a far,” she said.
TJ shifted on his cot. He had to remind himself that the other champions weren’t his enemy.
“Tell him I’m sorry,” he said.
“Long story. Come eat with us.”
“Starving yourself isn’t going to do anything.”
“Then why not?”
“Because that logic hasn’t reached my feet.”
The girl stepped inside and offered TJ her hand. He took it.
“My names Kara,” she told him.
They reached the table where they made 17. TJ was asked what his name was again. He told them as he sat down next to Kara and across from the Asian boy he had almost shanked. The boy didn’t meet his eye.
“Where’d you serve TJ?” asked a kid with jet black hair and more nose than face.
“American Civil War.”
“What?” asked the other white kid with the long hair. “That was a century ago.”
“How are you alive?”
“Where’d you serve?”
“The one in 1010?”
“How are you alive?”
The Native American jumped in.
“Gibson grabbed us when were still alive. You’re telling us he brought you back from the dead?”
TJ started to understand. “Oh. No. He, uh, it’s a long story. Has to do with Norse gods.”
The group seemed perfectly fine with that answer. TJ decided to use the slight lull in conversation to apologize to the Asian boy.
“Hey,” TJ said to him, “sorry for the whole attack over there…”
The boy didn’t answer.
“He doesn’t speak English,” said the Native American. “I’m Elan by the way. Fought with George Washington in the American Revolution.”
Even though TJ found that incredibly interesting, he focused on the first part.
“He can’t speak English?”
“Not a word.”
“What does he speak?”
“How should we know?” said the kid with the big nose.
“Well how long has he been here?”
“I don’t know. A while.”
TJ didn’t know how to respond to that. TJ mostly observed after that. The white boy’s name was Lloyd and, even though he looked like the youngest (with the exception of the Asian boy) he seemed in charge. Not including TJ, it appeared that only the kid with the long nose and Elan were from the US. Although Kara could easily be either American or Canadian based on accent.
Later on, TJ found out the kid with the nose’s name was Nathan and he seemed to be the oldest (early twenties). TJ hated him instantly. Him and the Lloyd seemed to lead a group of around five. They thought they ran the place. They were cruel to everyone else, except, suspiciously, Kara. TJ wasn’t sure if it was because they had a crush on her or because she had hidden fire that they didn’t mess with.
Their main targets seemed to be Elan and the Asian boy. Both mostly ignored it. A good twenty minutes into their lunch Nathan threw his arm around the Asian boy and said inappropriate comments he couldn’t understand. The boy grimaced and muttered under his breath.
TJ choked on his drink.
Everyone looked at TJ as he started laughing into his plate.
“What?” asked Nathan.
“Oh my gods, that almost makes this all worth it.”
He had spoken Korean. TJ knew Korean. It was one of the few languages he had learned at Valhalla. The boy had said something along the lines of: “one day soon I’m going to cut off that nose.”
TJ replied in Korean: “I hope your knife is big enough.”
TJ wasn’t sure who looked more surprised, Nathan or the Korean boy.
“You speak Korean?” asked the boy.
“You speak that?” asked Nathan.
TJ replied in Korean first, because he didn’t like Nathan.
“I learned years ago, so I am out of practice. Did you fight in the Korean War? The American war, I mean.”
The boy nodded vigorously.
“How did it end?” asked the boy.
TJ thought about that. This kid must have lived here with Gibson for fifty years and he never knew how the war he fought had ended.
“It’s confusing. Neither side really won. They just stopped fighting one day, made a—” TJ stopped and switched to English, “uh… wall… wall… what’s the Korean word for wall?” Nathan didn’t seem to know. TJ switched back to Korean. “— a line across the country, and said ‘you stay on your side, I’ll stay on my side’.”
The boy threw his hands in the air in disgust, stood up, and walked away.
“Hm,” said TJ, “he didn’t like that.”
“What’d you say?” asked Kara.
“He asked how the Korean war ended.”
“I told him.”
“And you speak Korean?” asked Nathan.
“Where did you learn Korean?”
TJ ignored the undercut racism, “My friend Half-Born likes languages and went through two years or so of not wanting to go to classes alone because… Well, if I tell you that someone was trying to kill him would you be alarmed? … anyway, I went with him to learn Korean and my friend Mallory went to learn San Script so I totally won there.”
TJ realized it hurt to talk about Half-Born and Mallory. About Valhalla in general. None of it felt real anymore, like this morning he had woken up from a good dream and was now faced with reality.
Lloyd seemed less than pleased. He straightened up and changed the subject.
“Right,” he said, “well. You’re new so I’ll spell it out for you. If you just train and fight who he tells you to it’s pretty good here.”
TJ stared at him. He couldn’t even fathom what had just come out of Lloyds mouth.
“Yeah. Okay. I’ve been a slave before I know how it works.”
A lot of the people around the table got tense at those words.
“What are you talking about?”
TJ didn’t say anything.
“I’m not a slave.”
“Why won’t you just believe me?”
“Because I’ve been a slave before, I know how it works.”
Lloyd made a similar gesture to the Korean boy did and left the table.
TJ turned to Elan. “I’m a pro at making new friends.”
Elan choked on his water.
Before anyone else could yell at him, TJ stood and went after the Asian boy. TJ didn’t feel at all bad about upsetting Lloyd or the fact that Nathan and the gang were glaring at him. It was amazing how easily TJ made enemies.
“Sorry” TJ said in Korean when he reached the small boy who sat in his own cell.
“The war, the mirror piece.”
The boy shrugged.
“My name is TJ.”
“Can I call you Mu?”
They talked for close to a half an hour. Turned out Mu-yeol was the youngest among them, somehow being drafted into the war at only eleven years old.
“How is that possible?” TJ asked.
“When the American’s tried to take my family’s land I fought them off. My father taught me to fight before he died. The army decided I would be useful.”
Later on, TJ realized his Korean was terrible. His vocab was fine, TJ was good at memorizing words, but according to Mu-yeol, his idea of past and present tense was horrific (TJ only solidly knew one kind of present tense, and tended to use it in all the wrong places). Mu-yeol didn’t seem to mind, though.
“Hey.” Someone said in English.
TJ looked up to see Kara at the entrance of Mu-yeol’s cell, “can I join you?”
Mu-yeol gestured for Kara to enter upon seeing her so TJ figured it was alright.
Kara stepped into the cell. Looking at her now, TJ realized she could easily be as old, or older than, Nathan. She was probably in her early twenties.
“I can’t believe you speak Korean,” she said. “I tried to learn but gave up a few weeks ago. Korean is hard.”
Mu-yeol tugged at TJ’s sleeve excitedly, “what is she saying?” he asked in Korean.
“That Korean is hard,” TJ told him.
Mu-yeol crossed his arms in defiance. “English is hard,” He muttered.
Kara laughed and sat down by the cot with them.
“We mostly communicate through hand gestures. It’s nice that someone can actually speak his language.”
“Not well, I’m told.”
“What are you saying?” asked Mu-yeol.
“I’m saying that I’m not good at Korean.”
Mu-yeol nodded in agreement. Kara laughed.
“Does anyone here need me to translate to American Sign Language? I am great at American Sign Language.”
Kara laughed again. Mu-yeol and TJ exchanged a few words, he decided to get more food before it was gone, leaving Kara and TJ alone.
“So how old are you TJ?” she asked.
“Wow, you can vote. Well, you could, if you weren’t here.”
“Yeah, here kinda puts a damper on the whole democracy, we the people, mentality.”
“So you’re from the United states?”
“Chicago Illinois, born and raised.”
“Where’d you serve?”
“So you haven’t been here too long.”
“Just four months. I got back from my tour about a year ago. Gibson abducted me on my college campus. I guess the blue light system doesn’t help if the guy’s got magic on his side.”
“Yeah. Four years of college, economics major. Then a tour of Afghanistan. Then back to the US for law school. I’ve had the system worked out since I was twelve.”
“What was the system?”
“College for economics, one year of the army, law school, town government, state government, senate – not the house of representatives, the senate –”
“and then the white house?”
“all by the time I’m 65.”
“And you thought up this plan when you were twelve?”
“A week after I finished watching The West Wing.”
“Ah, yes.” TJ remembered watching The West Wing when it came out in the late twentieth century. He supposed, that if he had been alive, he would have had an urge to peruse politics. “It’s impressive.”
“What did you want to do when you were twelve?”
“I wanted to shoot a slave owner.”
“But, I guess your plans got stalled,” TJ said.
“What about you?” she asked.
“I did, in fact, get to shoot a slave owner.”
“No,” she said laughing, “any big plans that Gibson stalled.”
TJ thought about that. He thought about his friends.
“No plans,” he said, “a couple of promises.”
Kara nodded slightly.
The food had disappeared, and the light above the door to the arena flicked on.
“Gibson’s coming in.”
TJ didn’t say anything.
“Look… He’s going to give you a weapon. Don’t bother trying to use it on him. I tried, he’s got some sort of magic protecting him.”
TJ said nothing. The door opened and Gibson bounded through the door with his loud suit and mannerism.
“Hello, hello, hello, how are my favorite champions?”
TJ’s anger spiked, but he simply stayed in the far corner and tried to look humble. A fight wouldn’t help him get out of there.
“We have a new face in our ranks. I’m sure you’ve all already met Thomas Jefferson?”
The group looked at him. TJ didn’t acknowledge it.
Gibson started rambling on about how there would probably more people coming to claim the bident, so they should keep training, blah, blah, blah. TJ mostly tuned him out until Gibson turned his attention back to him.
“We should probably break in our newest member!” he said.
TJ almost growled. He was already so sick of Gibson.
“What do you say TJ?” Gibson asked, “how about we get a baseline for your skills?”
TJ didn’t answer.
“Nathan,” Gibson said, not acknowledging TJ’s silence. “Why don’t you grab a number three gun? We’ll give TJ a bit of an edge.”
Nathan walked over to the shelf of weapons immediately, he almost looked happy about it.
“Please don’t be stupid,” said Kara.
“What did he mean ‘give me an advantage’?”
“Usually, the person who comes here to fight for the Bident gets to choose the type of weapon. There are different types of swords, axes, etc. Also different types of guns.”
“You can use guns?”
“Yeah sure. But there are different rules. Sometimes there are obstacles. With any guns you have to reload after three rounds or less, you have to overpower the other person before you shoot.”
“What happens if a champion dies?”
“What do you mean? They die.”
“There’s no magic that brings them back?”
“No. If we’re inside this building we don’t age but we can still be killed.”
TJ didn’t answer, but he’d be lying if he said he didn’t make a mental note.
“You won’t have bullets this time. When it’s champion on champion we obviously aren’t allowed to kill each other. You and Nathan wont have bullets in your guns. It’s mostly just combat with sticks. If you seriously hurt the other, you’ll get in trouble.”
“I don’t plan on fighting anyone.”
Kara gave him a sideways glace.
“What? Why would I?”
“Well. Nathan running at you with a metal stick is one reason.”
“And, you know. Food is good.”
“Gibson doesn’t feed you if you don’t fight?”
Kara shrugged. “He never flatly says that you don’t get to eat, but…He starts taking you out of talks during meals. He ‘forgets’ to open your cell door. Stuff like that.”
TJ said nothing. He decided a long time ago he wasn’t going to hurt his fellow slaves. Of course, he broke that promise more than once, but only when he was challenged. He wasn’t going to break that promise now, even for a little slime ball like Nathan. The question was how long could he last? Would Gibson let him die of starvation? Of course not. TJ was tempted to call his bluff. But then something else occurred to him. His friends were trying to break him out of there at that very moment but… what if their plan required him to fight? Could he do that if he was weak and starved? He didn’t have time to think about it. Gibson stepped forward and offered him a gun.
It looked exactly like his musket. TJ felt a spike of rage. Slowly, he reached out and took it, fully prepared to ram it into Gibson so hard he would knock the strips of his suit but when he touched the handle he stopped.
He felt the weight of the musket in his hands. The feel of the metal. This was his musket. The weapon that had granted him access to Valhalla. No bullets, no bayonet (sis anger spiked again as he realized Gibson still had the bayonet his father had given him) but it retreated quickly. Now TJ had his musket.
Gibson walked away. TJ stood in the middle of the arena. He said nothing, did nothing. Holding his own gun gave him a sense of clarity. He would not fight, just defend himself from getting too hurt. He would call Gibson’s bluff. He knew Half Born, Mallory, and Sam would not let him stay a hostage for very long.
The other champions moved to the side, as did Gibson. TJ noticed Kara, Mu-yeol, and Elan stood together. Nice to know all the sane people stuck together.
Nathan looked absolutely ecstatic.
“Don’t feel too bad,” he said, “I’ve been training since the Vietnam war.”
TJ looked at him. One, Nathan clearly wanted TJ to feel bad, and two, did Nathan actually think that was a long time? TJ was starting to feel old. The Vietnam war was like… last week.
Gibson blew a whistle, which made TJ feel even more ridicules, and Nathan charged at him.
TJ blocked a blow aimed at his head. He almost grumbled about Nathan putting dents in his gun, but it had been through worse. Nathan swung his gun like a club, completely disregarding its center of gravity. Sure, he was fast. And strong. And his foot work was good. But he was sloppy. Reckless.
Nathan eventually swung at TJ’s legs. TJ’s back slammed against the ground. Nathan stood above him and held up his musket.
“bang,” he breathed.
TJ had to bite back laughter. Bang? What he couldn’t just pull the trigger and let the gun make the stupid clicking sound? He had to make the noises with his mouth?
Nathan let TJ back up and they did it again. Each time Nathan became more annoying. He started talking about how TJ really hadn’t stood a chance against him. Then he kept giving TJ suggestions on how to do better. His friends were laughing. TJ felt his temper rise. When TJ looked at Gibson, he could tell he knew TJ was letting Nathan win. TJ could see Gibson’s disappointment.
He heard Sam’s voice in his head, you heard her, said her voice, no starting fights.
But then he heard Nathan.
“Come on,” he said, “show me some effort.” His friends snickered. “Come on, beat me this time.”
A challenge. So much for playing nice.
Nathan swung his gun and TJ stepped backward and dodged it easily.
“Good,” Nathan mocked.
He swung at TJ’s legs with a considerable amount of force. TJ jumped up and landed on the gun, jolting it from Nathan’s hands. TJ swung his musket around and hit a surprised Nathan in the face with the butt of his gun, making him stutter and fall (as well as probably breaking his nose).
Nathan landed on his back and TJ stood over him. TJ felt the same kind of anger that had got him killed, white hot anger that controlled his actions. The feeling he had the time he grabbed his father’s hand. This desire to do better, to be better.
“bang,” he hissed through clenched teeth.
The room was silent for a moment. Then Gibson started clapping.
The anger was gone. Now all TJ felt was shame. He stepped away from Nathan and held out his hand. Nathan took it and TJ helped him back up.
“Sorry,” TJ told him. Then he walked away, Gibson calling after him, to his little cage.
TJ stayed there, with his gun, no matter how many times Gibson called him over. Sometimes, the way Gibson worded his request sounded like a challenge, but TJ found it in him to ignore it. He had a funny feeling his father was excusing him from those particular challenges. It was as though his father was challenging him to something entirely different. Challenging him to rebel.
After a few hours Kara, Me-yeol, and Elan came up to him. Gibson was talking to Nathan, odds are fixing his nose.
“Where did you learn to fight like that?” asked Kara.
TJ couldn’t possibly explain Valhalla. It was too big. Too far away from Gibson’s arena.
“My father,” TJ replied. It was kind of true.
Elan sat down next to TJ. “I never thought of myself as a slave until you said it earlier today.”
TJ felt a spike of guilt. Ignorance was bliss (at least according to the movie Half Born made him watch).
“Sorry,” he said.
“Don’t be,” he said. “It was denial. I hate denial.”
“Gibson’s pissed,” Kara told him. “He didn’t like how you left like that.”
“Gibson can bite me.”
The three of them looked at him.
“You’re not like the others,” said Elan. “I mean… no one else says things like that. Especially not on their first day.”
“How did all of you act on your first day?” asked TJ.
Mu-yeol spoke up in Korean: “Scared.”
TJ looked at him. “You can understand English.”
Mu-yeol made a shushing gesture.
TJ switched to Korean, “you can speak English.”
Mu-yeol shrugged, “I’ve been here for a long time.”
“Does anyone know?”
“Those two I think, that’s all.”
TJ laughed. Mu-yeol, sweet little eleven-year-old Mu-yeol, had probably been forgiven for countless offenses and gotten away with hundreds of rebellious stunts because he had led Gibson to believe he could only speak Korean.
TJ turned to them, “Did you two know about this?”
“We had a hunch,” said Kara, “don’t talk about it though, Gibson’s got cameras.”
TJ nodded. These three reminded him so much of his some of his best friends from childhood. He remembered Rose, innocent little Rose, who told her slave owner the price of bread had gone up and saved enough money to buy herself a train ticket to New York. He remembered his friend Dillan, with the same kind of fire Kara had. Freedom wasn’t enough, he wanted to change the world.
“Gibson can’t hear us now though, right?”
Elan shook his head. “We’ve done some research. He doesn’t think he needs to listen in if he was in the room at the time.”
TJ nodded and bit his lip. If Gibson overheard it would be bad news, but then again it didn’t feel right keeping this from them.
“I’ve got friends with just as much training as me. Not only do they know I’m gone, but they know I’m here. They won’t leave me here. So… get ready for a break out.”
The three of them looked at him with pity in their eyes. TJ realized his mistake. They must think he had false hope, he was sure they all did when they first arrived.
“TJ, I thought my parents would find me,” said Kara. “I thought the police would shut this place down.”
“My friends aren’t the police.”
It was useless. Kara simply gave him another look, kissed him on the cheek, and left. Mu-yeol followed.
“I thought you of all people would skip this phase.”
“When people show up they go through a phase of thinking…”
“That they’ll be rescued?”
“That the world is kind enough to give a shit. That we’ll be missed.”
TJ didn’t understand.
“What do you mean?”
“When I arrived here, my life so far had been nothing but unfair, so I didn’t expect anything to change you know?”
“You had fought with George Washington,” TJ argued. What could be more amazing? And that meant Elan had won his war.
“Yeah. And right after the war was over he marched us away from the colonies. He didn’t want us in his new beautiful country.” Elan shifted. “I don’t know, I just figured since you were a slave that you would…”
TJ said nothing. Surely Elan learned about the trail of tears from Kara, TJ hadn’t known George Washington was also somewhat to blame for the initial displacement. He didn’t know what to say. Listening to Elan, life didn’t sound fair. TJ knew the feeling. It took him years of freedom in Valhalla to get him out of Elan’s mindset, to start loving his country again. TJ didn’t know how to teach that feeling of forgiveness to someone else.
When Elan realized TJ wasn’t going to say anything, he just stood and left. That was it. TJ was just a broken kid, and Kara, Elan, and Mu-yeol were going to wait for him to grow up.
TJ felt tears come to his eyes. What was taking his friends so long? Where were they? Had something happened? How long could TJ hold out?
Gibson eventually left. The lights turned off a few hours later. It was night. TJ had concluded his first day as a champion. He had added another tally to the long list of days of TJ’s career as a slave.
Alex hated rocks. She hated when they were sharp, and when they were smooth, and how the grew moss. Alex, Magnus, and Piper got to Jotunheim almost two days ago. They spent most of that time climbing a gigantic cliff that almost killed them all several times.
Luckily, they had rope. Alex had started with the rope tied around her waist. Big mistake. Their only hope at survival is one of them fell was for Alex to turn into a large bird and save them. When the rope was tied around her waist, it obstructed her wings, which caused Piper to break her arm. After Magnus fixed it, Alex decided to tie the rope around her ankle. Another mistake.
Even a giant bird large enough to carry a person had slimmer ankles than her. The rope slipped off of Alex’s ankle during the next emergency. No one was hurt, but Alex had to climb without a rope until they reached another ledge.
And so, for that moment on, Alex was a monkey.
It was the only animal that would work. She couldn’t just stay a bird, because she would either have to fly in a zig-zag pattern (this meant she could be very far away from Piper and Magnus if they fell) or she would have to violently beat her wings to keep in place (which was not only tiring, but made a lot of wind and threw Magnus and Piper off balance).
She had also tried a mountain goat, which was great at climbing the cliff, but her hooves threw rocks which hit Magnus.
And so a monkey it was. It worked alright for a while. Piper came close to falling once, but they got almost half the distance they needed to before the next person fell.
That person, unfortunately, was Alex.
It was the stupid moss. It was unexpectedly slippery. She could have caught herself as a bird after a ten feet of so, but then she would have also pulled Piper and Magnus down with her because of the stupid rope. She needed to rope to stop her, so she turned into the first small animal she could think of and clung to the rope for dear life.
It worked. Neither Magnus or Piper fell with her. They had no catastrophe.
What they did have however, was a white kitten the size of a teacup on a string.
“Alex,” Magnus said when she saw her, “stop kitten’ around.”
Alex meowed angrily as Magnus pulled her back up.
By the time they got to the top of the cliff, night was falling yet again. At least now they could see Loki’s workshop.
They had asked around for information on where Loki had set up shop (many giants hated Loki, you just needed to know where to look). They eventually got a location. Unfortunately, that location was at the top of a cliff, but life was never perfect.
“That’s it?” Piper said between sharp breaths. “It’s small.”
They hid behind another moss and snow covered rock, watching the one guard move restlessly. Alex observed the stumpy building before them.
“Most of it’s below ground,” she told them.
“Remember,” said Magnus, “we’re just here to look around. See what Loki’s up to. We aren’t starting any fights.”
Alex had the funny feeling he was directing that at her.
“Yes, sir,” she said.
“Don’t like being called sir. I’ll keep a note.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Give it a minute.”
“Okay,” said Piper, “I can probably get past the guard but he’ll realize what happened the minute we’re inside. He’ll sound the alarms.”
“So you distract him and I’ll take care of him.”
“Ew,” said Magnus, “I just got it.”
Alex snickered at him.
If Piper was uncomfortable she didn’t let on
“What about once we get inside?”
“Loki won’t notice a few missing workers here and there,” said Alex. “Our best bet is to just try to stay out of sight and kill anyone who sees us.”
“I can’t see that going wrong,” Magnus muttered.
Alex couldn’t help but agree, but they had already been in Jotunheim too long, they couldn’t spend more time thinking up a better plan. Loki was probably already two steps ahead.
Getting into the building was ridiculously easy, they didn’t even have to kill anyone. When they got closer to the guard, they noticed he was dozing off. Piper snuck up behind him and whispered something. He fell unconscious immediately.
“What’d you say to him?” Alex asked.
“I told him he wanted to go to sleep.”
Alex decided to become friends with Piper.
They snuck into the building and moved along the small tunnel, sloping downward.
Alex decided it was a trap about forty seconds in. Where were all the guards? They were just allowed to waltz down to the main construction area?
Apparently they were.
Every time they turned a corner they found yet another empty hallway. Finally, they emerged into a large work area.
“They’ve packed up and left,” said Magnus.
It was true, every forge deserted, every transport cart was empty. There wasn’t a soul around.
“The guard must have just been there to lock up.”
Alex could have kicked something. What was the point of going all the way to Jotunheim? Loki had probably left the minute he gave Alex her dream.
They decided to at least look around. Maybe someone had been sloppy with the pick up. But they were just kidding themselves. Loki wasn’t sloppy.
Halfway through the burnt out forges Alex stopped.
“There.” She pointed to a large window high above them. “That’s Loki’s office.”
Finding the office was pretty simple. They simply chose the only exit to the forges that had a locked door. Alex turned into a horse and kicked it. Screw locks.
Loki’s office was exactly like the one in her dream. All white, the same throne-like chair, the same modern art, the same uncomfortable couch. It was darker, the light she had taken for sunlight must have come from the fire of the forges, which made the whole scene less intense on the eye. Alex looked out the window. From this high up, the carts and forges did look like cars and buildings.
“I think this is blood,” Piper chimed in.
She stooped over the white couch, looking at the left cushion. Magnus looked at it over her shoulder.
“We don’t know it’s blood,” he said, “could be… I don’t know, tomato sauce?”
Piper looked at him. “One, which is more likely? And two, I’m a half-blood and a woman. You don’t think I know the difference between a blood stain and a spaghetti sauce stain?”
Alex snickered and looked at the cushion. It was definitely blood. Not a drop of blood, more like someone rubbed a bloody bandage against the couch.
“Well, Loki’s been busy,” she said.
“The fact that you don’t know by now,” said a voice by the other door, “bodes very well for us.”
Alex, Magnus, and Piper spun around. Alex and Piper had their weapons in their hands. Magnus seemed to be waiting to call Jack.
A very pretty woman stood in the doorway. She had a long, white dress that served a bit like camouflage in Loki’s bright office. She smiled coldly. In fact, everything about her seemed cold. Alex could guess you she was.
“You must be Khione.”
Khione smiled harshly at her. Alex thought through their next move. Magnus had been able to beat her once before, but it had nearly killed him. He didn’t have the strength to do it again.
“Piper,” Khione hissed, “how wonderful to see you again.”
Piper stood to her fullest height.
“Khione, surprised to see you working as Loki’s bitch.”
Alex’s heart actually swelled with the pride of just knowing this human. Alex herself could not have said it better.
Khione smiled, “you and Valdez have one mind. He also thought I’d start reconsidering my very existence, as though it had never occurred to me that I worked for Loki.”
Alex stopped. When had Leo spoken to Khione? Before Magnus got her near Camp Half Blood? She looked at Magnus, asking the silent question.
Magnus slowly shook his head.
Alex didn’t wait. She jumped at Khione, knocking her to the ground, wrapping her garrote around her throat and pulling it tight.
“When did you talk to Leo?” she snarled.
Magnus had summoned Jack and ran to her side. Piper seemed to shocked to move.
Khione just smiled.
“I think you know.”
Alex’s heart was thumping in her chest. The blood on the sofa. She had the urge to ask about Blitzen, but she knew that answer too. They had been in this room. Within the last two days they had been in this room. Maybe in the two hours. And Alex had missed them.
Suddenly Alex’s hands felt cold. She released Khione and jumped back before she got frost bite. Alex, Magnus, Piper stood facing Khione, waiting for a fight they had no idea how to win. But Khione didn’t seem to be in a hurry.
“And as for your crude comment… well it’s a win win isn’t it? Loki gets what he wants. I get what I want.”
“What could Loki possibly have that you want?” asked Magnus.
“Loki doesn’t have it exactly…But working with him gave me a few key opportunities. Seeing Leo Valdez captured like a stray dog was almost as wonderful as it will be killing Piper slowly of hypothermia. And as for Jason Grace…” Khione gave a knowing smile. “I bet I can find a place for him in my collection.”
Alex had no idea what that meant but she got the gist. She brandished her garrote. One thing at a time Alex, she thought, before you find Blitzen and Leo you have to kill this god.
Alex, Magnus, and Piper attacked at the same time.
They were so stupid. Khione was a god. And they, in fact, were not.
Khione flicked her hand and the temperature fell forty degrees. The only reason they weren’t all icicles already was that Magnus seemed to be radiating heat. So they had that going for them.
Alex’s garrote, however, froze and was basically useless. She threw it to the side and changed into a polar bear. They lived in low temperatures, she thought, she would be better prepared against the cold. And they had really long claws.
Piper swiped at Khione with a wicked sword that seemed unaffected by the ice. Khione dodged the brunt of it but Piper managed to give her a cut across the cheek.
Khione hissed. “You dare use my own idiotic brother’s sword against me?” she spat.
“Me and my friends have beaten you three times before Khione,” Piper responded. “Seems like time to find another hobby.”
The temperature dropped even lower. Alex growled in her polar bear and lunged forward. The polar bear helped with the cold, but Khione flicked her wrist and Alex went sprawling, sending her into the couch and toppling it over.
Magnus sent Jack in to help, while staying still, radiating heat. It must have been taking a lot out of him, and it was a losing battle. The room got colder and colder by the minute.
Jack, Piper, and Alex fought like beasts, but even together, they were no match for the goddess. The temperature kept dipping. Piper was slowing down and Alex was starting to feel the freezing weather through her layers of fur and fat. The cold cracked and broke the window looking down to the forges.
Alex turned back into a human and grabbed Piper.
“Lead her to the forges” she whispered in Piper’s ear.
Alex set herself up with her back to shattered window, turned into a bull, and charged Khione. Khione flicked her wrist and sent Alex straight backward through the window.
Alex wait a second, then turned into a small bird and flew down to the largest forge. She landed on the top of it in human form. Scrambling down, she looked inside. The coals were still hot. She looked up at a suspended barrel of sheet metal, abandoned during the evacuation.
Sloppy, she thought looking at all the good metal that had been wasted. Maybe Loki had made a mistake showing her his headquarters in Jotunheim? He would have had to leave in a rush. Well, it was good for Alex and her friends.
Alex flew up to the barrel. Making sure it was perfectly over the forge, she dropped the load onto the hot coals.
BAM, Magnus, Piper, and Jack were thrown through the door and sent sprawling. Khione followed them. Alex waited for Magnus and Piper to get back up. They didn’t. Jack hovered over Magnus. That’s how Alex knew Magnus was unconscious. Whenever Magnus was knocked out during a fight, Jack went into complete protector mood. He wouldn’t leave Magnus’s side.
Alex gave her best whistle in the attempt to get Khione’s attention. It worked, Khione saw her standing on top of the tallest forge. She smiled.
Alex looked down at her metal. It looked slightly softer…maybe? She turned into a bird and flew to meet Khione. Until then, she hadn’t realized how much Magnus had been doing. The air stabbed her lungs. But she turned back into a human and stood with a straight-spine against Khione.
“Well, you have persistence,” Khione chuckled.
Alex held her chin up. She had only been this cold once before, walking through the ice planet Niflheim with Magnus. Where they had their first kiss. The memory gave her confidence. Piper was stirring behind Khione, rolling over and struggling to her knees.
“Yeah, I’m really good at holding grudges,” Alex responded.
Piper stood, grabbed her sword, and ran Khione through with it while she was still facing Alex. Khione yelled at the top of her lungs and stumbled around.
“What’s the plan?” Piper asked, running up to Alex.
“Get her in front of that forge.”
“What about Magnus?”
“Jack, protect Magnus.”
“Yep,” said Jack, glowing bright red with anger.
Alex and Piper turned and ran towards the forge. Khione, having healed herself from Piper’s attack, followed them. Alex thought they would make it to the forge, until, suddenly, Khione appeared right in front of them. Alex and Piper dove to opposite sides as Khione sent a blast of ice to where they had been standing moments before.
Alex rose to her feet and concentrated. A moment later she was a small, scaly, green dragon with long claws and sharp teeth. She immediately felt better. Dragons were like walking furnaces. She felt warmer immediately, feeling the fire building in the pit of her stomach.
Alex took to the air, swinging around and heading straight back to where Khione and Piper were. She mustered up as much strength as she could and blew white flames.
Khione dodged. But she wasn’t aiming for Khione. Her fire hit the coals of the forge behind her, not only warming the room but completely melting the metal inside.
Piper leapt into action. She stabbed and dodged like a mad woman. Alex didn’t know where she kept her energy. But she did know. Piper fought for Leo, just like Alex fought for Blitzen.
Piper swiped and Khione’s legs, sending the goddess sprawling on the floor in front of the shoot of the forge.
“PIPER MOVE.” Piper shot to the side as Alex (back in human form) grabbed the chain next to the forge, putting all her weight on it. It didn’t budge. She planted her feet on the wall slightly above her and used her entire body to pull the chain downward.
The door to the forge opened, spewing molten metal onto Khione. The goddess screamed, her eyes shined.
Alex didn’t have much schooling, but she knew what happened when you rapidly cooled heated metal. Khione found herself trapped inside a case of hard titanium, complete solid and stuck to the floor.
Alex and Piper breathed for a moment. Then ran back to Magnus, ignoring Khione’s screams of rage. Alex wasn’t worried about the goddess. She was weak, if she wanted to continue this fight she would need to go to Antarctica or something and refuel.
She dropped to the floor next to Magnus. His skin was ice.
“How’s he doing Jack?” she asked, not sure what he would know. Jack was a sword and therefor probably knew more about causing injury than healing it.
“He’s been slowly slipping into a hypothermic induced coma. The heat from the forge is helping though.”
Alex realized that Jack and Magnus must be connected. Jack knew exactly what was happening with Magnus. The blade’s voice quivered when he spoke.
Alex’s hands were shaking. She couldn’t loose Magnus. Not now. They were official. Their friends knew. Alex had a picture on her mantel. Tears sprung to Alex’s eyes. It was supposed to be the other way around. She was supposed to be the one that got hurt. Magnus could have helped her, but she couldn’t help him.
Piper took Alex’s hand. Alex looked at her, her eyes said it all. She understood. She was going to try and help.
“He can heal himself right?” Piper asked, rummaging through her bag.
“Yeah? But I think he has to be awake.”
Piper took out a flask. Alex looked at it.
“As much as I admire your preparedness…”
“It’s nectar, get your mind out of the gutter.”
Alex chuckled slightly. Piper poured some of the magical healing stuff down Magnus’s throat. For a moment, nothing happened. Then he coughed and sputtered, eyes flying open.
Alex didn’t care if it was corny, she threw her arms around him and buried her head in his shoulder.
Magnus said something along the lines of “whaa—?” and hugged her back.
When they broke apart, Alex could tell Piper was hiding a smile. She didn’t really care though.
“Khione,” Magnus choked
“We trapped her, don’t worry,” Alex told him.
“Alex trapped her,” Piper corrected, “she was incredible.”
Alex smiled slightly. Piper made some stupid excuse to go check Khione and left. Jack floated a bit farther away.
“Don’t ever do that again.”
She hugged him again. She didn’t even feel stupid.
“Hate to interrupt,” said Piper, “but Khione’s gone. She probably went back to Canada.”
“She lives in Canada?” asked Alex.
“Figures,” Magnus muttered. “So fricken cold.”
“We should go,” said Piper, “she might come back.”
Alex nodded. Go where? Back to Camp Half Blood she supposed. They would have to tell the others that Leo and Blitz were being held captive. But wait, they would already know. How long had it took them before they started to get nervous? How many hours before they decided Leo and Blitzen should have been home by now?
The three of them stood. Magnus was shaky on his feet so Piper and Alex propped him in between them. They were headed back to the way they entered until Alex stopped.
So they hobbled back to Loki’s office.
It was a mess. The window was shattered. Ice had melted and water soaked into the white wallpaper making the room look ragged and wore. The pictures were all ripped and strewn across the floor. The couch had been toppled over.
Alex picked up her garrote. The gold Sif had made for her seemed unaffected from being frozen. She was about to turn and leave when something caught her eye. She picked up a small device that must have been under the couch.
“Leo,” Piper whispered.
Alex looked at the device. It had to be from Leo and Blitzen. They knew they were coming, right? Alex turned on the device.
The four of them, Magnus, Piper, Alex, and Jack, watched with anticipation. The screen showed one of those stupid digital hour glasses. Finally, the loading sign vanished and the screen changed.
Error? Thought Alex, are you kidding me?
“Maybe the kids from the Hephaestus cabin can take a look at it when we get back to camp?” Piper offered.
Alex sighed. She nodded.
It took them a few hours to get back to Midgard. They did not go down that stupid cliff again. Just walked until they found an entrance to the world tree.
Back in Boston, they stopped off at the Chase Space to make sure everyone was doing okay and no one had died without Blitzen and Hearth checking in on them. Alex sat on the counter while Piper looked for buses to Long Island and Magnus took a warm shower.
Alex fumbled with the machine again. Leo was supposed to be this amazing inventor. So great that Loki wanted to exploit him. Sure, he couldn’t have had that much supplies, but she felt like it should work. She pressed the button again. The hour glass spun and spun and spun until it disappeared.
Alex stared at the screen.
“Piper?” she said, not looking away.
“Don’t buy the tickets, we’re going somewhere else.”
Piper looked at her.
“Where?” she asked.
Sorry for the two month hiatus. It shouldn't happen again. I've got more time now. I've also been getting requests to write little blurbs at the beginning of each chapter to catch people up on the story so I'm going to start doing that from now on. This one is really really really long. I figured that it's been two months and people might need some extra reminding.
Thanks for reading :)
deep voiced TV narrator: Previously on Mixing Worlds
Loki is planning something mysterious, which seems to be taking place in Philadelphia. The group of Greek, Roman, and Norse demigods end up splitting up to try and find out more about his plan. Magnus, Alex, and Piper go to Jotunheim because Alex thinks Loki might be there. Blitzen and Leo, while traveling to earth through the world tree get captured by Loki. Hearth becomes very weak because he was not exposed to light and stayed a Camp Halfblood to recover. Reyna shows up and tells the rest of the group about some monster activity in Philadelphia. They're all like "okay sure" and go to Philadelphia. The group sees that Loki is up to something near Independence hall. They find out that Loki wants to get his hands on this bident and go to see what that's all about. They find out the Bident used to belong to Ares and has the power to change the outcome of a single battle. It is being protected by this dude Gibson who started out as just a little creepy and war-obsessed to a complete psycho in about twenty seconds. He takes TJ hostage because of his performance in the Civil War. Gibson holds a lot of kids hostage, all of whom have done great things in war and gotten zero recognition for it. A quick headcount is Kara who fought in Afghanistan and has this very technical plan to become president one day. Elan: Native American, fought in the American Revolutionary war. Mu-yeol: Korean, the youngest (eleven), and best fighter. Nathan: from the US, fought in the Vietnam war, is kinda a jackass. And Lloyd: fourteen, has been there the longest. TJ feels like he's a slave again and is waiting for his friends to come help him. (they also could really use the Bident to fight Loki but whatever). A little later, Hearth, Will, Nico, and Calypso (who showed up because she was worried about Leo). Hearth reads some ruins about Blitzen that say things like "serious injury/ maiming" and the four of them decide to head to Philadelphia.
TJ was hungry. It annoyed him.
Broken bones? No problem. He could fight with one for hours. Small spaces? They were fine. Hot weather, cold weather, TJ didn’t mind. But he couldn’t stand being hungry.
The idea of not eating always scared TJ. Even when Sam participated in Ramadan it took all his energy not to protest.
TJ hadn’t been allowed to eat anything for two days, ever since the first lunch he had there. Gibson never spoke to him. Never outright told him he couldn’t eat. But his cell hadn’t opened in that time. The message was clear. You eat when you fight.
So TJ didn’t eat. He had his musket, with no bullets or bayonet. He had plenty to drink. But that was basically it. He sat on his cot and watched the other champions. Thinking about the aching feeling in his stomach.
He was always well fed at Valhalla. Even in the army he had a reasonable amount of meals. Even as a slave he was fed. The last time he really starved was when he ran.
TJ watched Mu-yeol beat the crap out of Lloyd. It was just a training exercise, but the kid was insanely talented. TJ thought about what Mu-yeol had said, that his father taught him to fight. That made TJ think of his father, (did Tyr really help him ignore Gibson’s challenges?). Then his mind slide to his step-father. In his mind he saw his step father’s death, which brought his mind back to hunger.
TJ shifted on his cot. The entrance to his cell was wide open. If TJ cared enough, he would have thought about the irony of him starving to death in an open cage. But he really didn’t care enough.
Gibson blew his stupid little whistle and the champions stopped to look at him. TJ groaned. Were they aware how much they looked like trained guard dogs? But then again, they got to eat, so who was the stupid one, really?
Gibson said a few words and the champions headed back to their cells. Gibson took a keycard off his belt and swiped it on the pad by the door. All of the cell doors closed. Then Gibson took his card, opened the door to the arena, and left.
Weird. It was weird. Gibson was usually in the arena for at least another hour, maybe two. Why was today different?
TJ tried not to think about it. But he couldn’t help it. It had been three days since he was captured by Gibson. Where were his friends?
They would never just leave him. That much he knew. So what happened to them? He couldn’t believe Gibson had hurt them. They were too strong. But could his security keep them out? Maybe for a day, but three? His only other thought was Loki. That they found something about Loki’s plan, or that an emergency had turned up and they had to leave him there.
He understood why they would need to.
He didn’t like it, but he understood.
However, this led to doubts about his whole “stubbornness” plan. Should he play Gibson’s game until his friends were able to come and get him? The very thought made him angry for a multitude of reasons:
- He hated Gibson.
- Fighting Gibson’s “champions” was against everything TJ believed in.
- He couldn’t bare the thought of being a trained attack dog while his friends were saving the world without him.
- He really hated Gibson.
How long would he be able to do this? TJ couldn’t believe Gibson would let him starve, he would be wasting a perfectly good champion. But how long would it take before Gibson gave in? TJ wanted to believe he would be able to hold out, but the hunger was already driving him crazy. Gibson would probably wait until the last moment, which led to another problem.
What if his friends came to rescue him but needed him ready to fight? He was already pretty weak. He could probably hold his own, but not by much. Not for long.
Just the fact that he had to be rescued infuriated him. He had saved the world, fought his fair share of monsters. He should be able to escape without help from his friends. Maybe they expected him to?
But he couldn’t. And despite his best effort, he wasn’t stupid enough to try. Kara had mentioned that Gibson had magic. And TJ (except for his Einherji strength) did not. Plus, there was no way in Helium TJ would be the first to attempt an escape, but, judging from the lack of hope in the arena, he would be the first to succeed.
TJ shifted on his cot and laid on his back, staring at the ceiling. He should have a rubber ball to bounce against the cell. He’d shove it down Gibson’s throat.
With that pleasant thought, TJ closed his eyes.
He didn’t know how long he stayed like that, somewhere between being asleep and being awake. But, after a time, he opened his eyes. Someone was lightly tapping on his cell’s large window. TJ sat up and looked out into the arena. Gibson was back, the champions were still in their cages, but there were three other people in the arena. Hazel Levesque stood in front of one cell. Reyna Ramirez-Arellano stood with Gibson. And Samirah Al-Abbas was tapping on his door.
TJ stared in shock, mouth slightly open, unable to process what he was seeing.
“Need a little help?” Sam signed in ASL.
TJ smiled slightly, “just a bit” he signed back. He looked back at Gibson, who was having a conversation with Reyna that looked almost pleasant.
“how--?” he asked.
“We’re competing for the bident” Sam explained, “it usually is best two out of three, but we made a deal that if we win all three Gibson will let you go.”
TJ stared at her. That was their genius plan? TJ would have preferred it if they had just set the place on fire.
“I’m not leaving the others here,” he signed.
Sam rolled her eyes, “Well, duh”.
TJ relaxed a bit. But he was even more confused.
Sam shot a look over to Gibson, who was still talking to Reyna, then she turned back to TJ.
“Who here do you trust?” she asked.
Sam moved away from TJ before Gibson and Reyna stopped talking. TJ stood up, watching his friends go from cell to cell as if they were shopping. Exactly as if they were shopping.
He caught Kara’s eye. She obviously had seen him talk to Sam. She raised her eyebrows. TJ winked.
TJ’s friends picked the people they wanted to fight. Hazel picked Mu-yeol, Sam picked Elan, and Reyna picked Kara.
Kara must have been all kinds of confused. And she had clearly told the other three because they were all stealing glances at him. He just smiled and gave them a thumbs up.
By Odin let this work, he thought.
Reyna and Kara were the first to fight. They stood in the center of the arena. Kara was given a spear that looked very similar to Reyna’s, though Reyna’s longer. Kara was clearly awkward with it. No wonder; Kara’s war had been in the twenty-first century. Spears were not frequently used in twenty-first century wars. Kara only had a year at Gibson’s house of terror. She didn’t have nearly as much practice with that type of weapon as Reyna.
Gibson, however, didn’t look nervous. He was writing on some stupid clipboard. How could he be that okay with the loss of a champion? There was no way Reyna was going to loose this fight… Then a thought struck TJ that he didn’t like very much.
How many Champions had Gibson lost? Did he just… recycle them? After one died he went out and got another? How many people had he killed in these little tournaments? Sure, these kids could fight, but Gibson was putting them up against monsters that have walked to earth for a millennium. Gibson spoke so highly of his “champions”, but obviously didn’t care as much as TJ had assumed.
Before TJ could get properly mad, Gibson blew his whistle and Reyna attacked.
Kara held her own. That was… about all he could say. In the first two minutes of their fight, Kara did not attack once. Not because she didn’t want to -- she never got the chance.
Reyna attacked, Kara ducked. Reyna swung, Kara blocked. She kept inching backwards, which was not a great sign.
TJ shifted slightly in his seat. What exactly was their plan? Because it did not look like Reyna had any intention of rescuing Kara – or even sparing her life.
Reyna tripped slightly in a lung, she appeared slightly off balance for a half a second. Kara noticed, she lunged forward, making her first offensive attempt.
TJ would have yelled out a warning if he knew she would hear him. He had only fought with Reyna once, but he knew enough from that experience to know: Reyna doesn’t loose balance.
With one arm, she looped Kara’s spear and pinned it against her side, holding it hostage. A more experienced fighter would have cut her losses and let go of the spear, but Kara did not have that much training. Reyna slashed with her spear, cutting open Kara’s side.
TJ jumped to his feet. He watched Kara break free and tumble away.
What was that?! He thought. Sam told him they were going to save everyone!
Did she? Said the annoying part of his brain. Technically she didn’t, she just agreed that you would be upset.
He told himself to shut up and focused on the fight. Kara was still alive, but she was weak.
His friends couldn’t do this… All these people were innocent. This couldn’t be happening. It—
“Oh,” TJ said to himself. He understood. It wasn’t happening.
TJ looked at Hazel. She didn’t appear to be doing anything particularly special, but he could tell she was concentrating very hard on the fight in front of them.
TJ looked back to Reyna and the wounded Kara. He focused as well. Einherji were supposed to be able to see through the Glamor… He had never had trouble before but—
The fighting scene flickered for a moment. Then went back. But it couldn’t fool TJ anymore. He looked around the room, prepared to see what was actually happening.
All the cells had been opened, including TJ’s, he just hadn’t noticed. Reyna fought in the center, while another Reyna spoke to a clearly shaken, but unhurt, Kara at the edge of the arena. She had Gibson’s keycard.
“Hazel,” said TJ at a normal register.
She turned to look at him.
“Can I—” he gestured to outside his cell.
Hazel smiled and winked.
TJ took that as a yes. He took one step, then two. No one noticed. TJ grabbed his musket and jogged over to Reyna and Kara.
“—You don’t understand,” TJ overheard Kara say. “These people… they’re not going to come just because I tell them to… I’m not exactly liked here.”
“You’re all we’ve got right now,” said Reyna.
“They won’t listen to me.”
“You’re a politician,” said TJ, “make them listen.”
The two girls jumped and whirled around.
TJ barely had time to smile at them before he was tackled in a hug and his vision was obscured by black hair.
“I am so sorry,” Reyna said in his ear. “Are you okay?”
At that moment, TJ seemed to be having trouble breathing. But he figured that had nothing to do with his physical well-being.
Reyna let go. TJ wished she wouldn’t. Her hair smelled like apples.
Okay, we get it, TJ told his brain, I’ve got a crush, stop being obvious.
“So Sam seemed to suggest there was a plan?”
“We’re hoping to get out of here before Gibson even knows we’re gone.”
TJ looked over to the fake fight between Reyna and Kara. Gibson was definitely falling for it. If Hazel could keep it up, there would be no reason to have a confrontation with Gibson.
Anger spiked in TJ. He tried to ignore it. He knew it was stupid, after all he was tired, stiff, and about to collapse from hunger, but he wanted a fight. He wanted Gibson dead.
“Right,” he said, trying to hide his disappointment.
He didn’t do it very well. But if Reyna noticed she didn’t mention it.
Instead, she mentioned something about talking to Hazel and walked away.
“What the fuck is going on,” asked Kara once she was gone.
TJ smiled. “Gibson’s not the only one with magic.”
“But how does it work.”
He laughed. “You’re asking the wrong person.”
Reyna came back over, followed by Hazel.
Hazel hugged TJ, gave him a sisterly peck on the cheek. TJ smiled through it.
“So,” he said, “you mentioned a plan?”
“I’m going to wake up every champion around the arena,” said Hazel.
“It’s our job to make sure they don’t riot and accidentally wake up Gibson,” Reyna explained.
“What about Elan and Mu-yeol?” asked Kara.
“Those two?” Hazel pointed to Elan and Mu-yeol who were standing at the edge of the arena. “I’ll wake them up after the fight starts. I need to know their fighting patterns before I create fake versions of them.”
Kara nodded, as though that made perfect sense.
“Alright people,” said Reyna, “divide and conquer.”
The word conquer has an entirely different feeling coming from a roman demigod. TJ wanted to dwell on the irony of it, but he grudgingly decided he had other things to worry about.
Reyna, Kara, and TJ went to different sides of the arena, with the hope of catching the champions as soon as they woke up to stop any potential riots. TJ stood outside Nathan’s cell, figuring he would be the one to cause the most trouble if left unattended.
Hazel raised her hand and signed: 3, 2, 1
Suddenly Nathan jumped to his feet, eyes wide, looking from the fake Kara and Reyna to the real Kara and Reyna to TJ and back again.
“Deep breaths,” said TJ, “in and out.”
“Magic,” he said. “Congratulations. This is a rescue.”
“Rescue. Jailbreak. Aided escape.”
TJ looked to his left and saw that people were slowly inching out of their cells, unsure of what to do. TJ snapped his fingers to get their attention and gestured for them to come over.
“Okay,” said TJ. “These are my friends. That girl right there-” he pointed to Hazel, “is using magic to create this… well, illusion? I guess? Our plan is to get out of here while Gibson is distracted. But we can’t have to much of a… presence… or Gibson might break out of the illusion.”
The group of around six stared at him. TJ was starting to feel slightly uncomfortable when one of them broke the silence.
“You’re one of them,” breathed a boy TJ didn’t know.
“One of what?” asked TJ.
“The monsters,” said Nathan. “The ones that come and fight us.”
Something clicked in TJ’s mind.
“No,” he said, “no—I’m not—”
“It makes so much sense,” said Nathan, “there was something off about you. You’re not human. How else could you have lived since the Civil War.”
“Technically I didn’t—”
“You’re not human—you—”
“You’re right. I’m not,” said TJ. “Not entirely.”
“I’m a Half Blood,” TJ explained. “Half human, half god.”
“Norse god. Like the mythology? I’m a son of Tyr. It’s really not all that special. But you know the myths like Hercules? Stuff like that? That’s what we are.”
No one said anything.
“I’m also an Einherjar. We’re…undead warriors of Asgard. Which… sounds a lot creeper than it actually is. Technically, I’m not immortal. I’m here because I died in the Civil War and got sent to an afterlife where I train to be a soldier for the gods. The monsters you’ve been forced to fight? I fight them by choice. I fight them for a living. And I’m not going to stop doing that just because some idiot named Gibson’s got a weird hobby. So, Nathan, I’m leaving here either with or without you. You can either follow behind, or go back into your cell.”
Nathan didn’t move. No one did.
“Am I going to pretend any of that made sense?” asked Nathan.
“That’s entirely up to you.”
No one spoke.
“Well?” asked TJ.
“Are you coming?”
TJ was taken aback. His eyebrows shot up.
Nathan shuffled from foot to foot.
“I’ve been here thirty years,” he muttered. “I can’t be here thirty more.”
TJ saw the fear in Nathan’s eyes and TJ understood.
When TJ was fourteen he learned about a man who would smuggle anyone out of the state for about two bucks and fifty cents (which was the equivalent of about $70). His mother had died two years before. He knew he didn’t want to be a slave anymore, but there was that constant fear. Fear that the man would simply take the money and turn him in, or that he would be caught and killed.
But there was also a different kind of fear. Fear of Little Willis.
Little Willis was an elderly black man that worked for the same family as TJ. TJ worked in the field, Little Willis was a house slave, mostly because he couldn’t lift heavy things anymore.
He was past sixty, easy, and TJ would watch as the old man was still called “Little Willis”, a nickname he was given at birth. TJ watched this man call the five-year-old white boy “Master”. As he called men half his age “sir”. As he was sent to the market with notes he couldn’t read.
Nothing in TJ’s escape could scare him more than the thought of TJ’s future. He’d rather be one of the black men that swung from the trees on Sunday than live to be Little Willis. None of the fear that remained from his last escape could overpower that.
TJ stole the money and bought his way to freedom.
Nathan was the same. Nathan was afraid of staying more than he was afraid of running.
“Alright then” TJ said to Nathan. Their eyes met. They seemed to finally understand each other.
The groups met by the door to the arena. Everyone seemed on board. But Lloyd was definitely brooding in the back of the group.
“Does Lloyd like this plan?” TJ asked Kara and Reyna.
“No,” said Reyna, “but I threatened him at the exact time my fake double killed Kara’s fake double so he’s too afraid to object.”
TJ looked over at the arena’s center. Sam and Elan were about to start fighting. TJ hadn’t even noticed the first fight had ended.
“So what are we waiting for?” asked a kid around TJ’s age with a thick Nigerian accent.
“we still need Elan and Mu-yeol,” said Kara.
“And Sam and Hazel,” said Reyna.
“The fights need to start out genuine so Hazel can pick up on fighting techniques. Then her illusions are more realistic. After a few minutes of fighting she takes over and the fighters can come join us.”
“Once Elan and Sam join us we’ll open the doors using Gibson’s key card,” said Reyna. “The minute Hazel and Mu-yeol get over here we leave and lock Gibson inside. Then we make a run for it.”
“What about the bident?” TJ asked.
Before Reyna could answer TJ got tackled with a hug.
“Oh my gods,” said the hugger.
It was Sam.
TJ hugged her back.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, “of all the things that could have happened on this trip—I can’t even…”
TJ took a second to bury his face in her shoulder and breath.
Even though TJ felt a very strong connection with Reyna and Hazel, he had only met them a few days ago. He had known Sam for years, ever since she came to Valhalla with X (who turned out to be Odin but whatever). She was familiar, a piece of the life he had already started to forget.
She understood him, understood what this experience must have done to him. She said nothing more, she didn’t pry. The hug only lasted a few seconds, but that was all TJ needed.
When they released, TJ gave Sam a small smile and she returned it.
“So bident?” TJ asked.
“The others are taking care of it,” Reyna told him
All the champions looked very confused.
“Oh yeah,” said Reyna, as though just realizing they forgot that small detail. “We’ve got ten others scurrying around here somewhere.”
“Ten?” asked TJ. Unless his math was off, TJ was pretty sure there were only six more of them in Philadelphia.
“Hearth, Nico, Will, and Calypso came the day after Gibson took you,” said Sam.
“Who’s Calypso?” asked TJ. There were too many people to remember.
“She’s Leo’s girlfriend,” Reyna said.
“Alright, why are they here?”
Sam and Reyna exchanged looks.
“I want you to be calm when I tell you this,” said Sam.
“That’s a good sign.”
“Are you calm?”
“Blitzen and Leo never made it back to camp.”
TJ felt like he was buffering. His mind stopped working for a second.
“Well,” he said, “that doesn’t necessarily—”
“Hearth read some ruins,” said Sam, “we’re pretty sure.”
Loki had Blitzen? It didn’t compute. The fact that Blitzen was… who knows where? Going through… what? Torture? Was that really Loki’s style? And Leo, being forced to work as slave labor for the other side. What were they making him build? How were they making him build? Was Loki just talking to him? Or was there torture involved there as well? It was all too much to think about.
“Then what are you guys doing here?” asked TJ finally.
Reyna snorted, “saving your sorry ass.”
“I could have waited.”
“We need all the help we can get to stop Loki,” said Sam, “and we already knew where you were, how to get you back. You think we were just gonna walk away?”
TJ knew they were right. And he was grateful that they came and got him. But he didn’t feel like they really needed him there when they fought Loki. That they were wasting precious time.
Out of all the Norse heroes on this quest, Half Born, TJ, Mallory, Magnus, and Alex were dead. How many of those deaths had been caused by Loki? Mallory’s, Magnus’s, and Alex’s. TJ wanted to see his friend’s deaths justified. He wanted them to avenge their own deaths, but he didn’t necessarily need to be there when they did… This was their fight, not TJ’s.
TJ’s train of thought was cut short as Fake Elan cut Fake Sam across the leg. He was insanely good. Of course Elan had decades more practice.
Reyna was unlocking the doors to the arena. People were already being ushered out.
“Those two,” said Kara, “Blitzen and Leo. They’re friends of yours?”
TJ nodded, “I’ve known Blitz longer.”
He said nothing else. He couldn’t process any type of grief or fear. Not at that moment.
Reyna gestured for Lloyd to go through but he stopped. “Wait a second,” he said.
“Oh what now?” Reyna huffed.
But TJ was starting to understand. Lloyd was the Little Willis of Gibson’s champions. The one no one wanted to become. Lloyd had been there for so long, taken at such a young age, that he couldn’t remember what freedom was like. He had no real memories outside of Gibson’s arena.
“Lloyd,” TJ said, “you’ve got to know that this place is terrible. I get you wanted to see the better side of it when you were trapped here but—”
“I know this place is bad!” said Lloyd.
“Then why do you want to stay?” asked Kara.
“Because think of how much worse it’s gonna be when Gibson catches us!”
“He’s not going to,” said Sam.
“He always catches us.”
There was a slight pause.
“How many times have you tried to escape?” asked TJ.
There were tears in Lloyd’s eyes. “A few,” he said, “before anyone else showed up.”
“You were here alone with him?” asked Elan.
“Some people came and went,” he said, “at first none of them survived Gibson’s magic.”
The group formed around Lloyd. This was interesting.
“What do you mean?” asked TJ.
“Now when new champions come they just stop aging but when Gibson was still new at this he… he needed to remove age from us every year. Like we would age a year and then he would reverse it.” Lloyd shifted from foot to foot. “A lot of people ended up dying from that after the first… three times?”
“Gibson perfected his magic,” said Sam. She turned to TJ. “What is he?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “there’s no Glamor around his human body… I’ve tried every method of seeing through it that I know.”
“What do you mean?” asked Lloyd. “He’s human.”
“You think so?” asked TJ.
“I was friends with him outside of here,” he said, “he was born two years after me.”
The party starred.
“You knew him?” asked TJ.
“And he didn’t show any signs of magic?”
Lloyd shook his head. “We were in the war together. I saved his life… I saved a lot of lives. He called me a hero. Said I should be recognized for it. But… well obviously I wasn’t. He got more and more angry about it. Saying it was unfair. About a year later he disappeared.”
“He ran away. I had no idea where he went until he showed up again about another year later. That’s when it started.”
“He had magic?”
“He used these little necklace charms. Then he kept finding bigger things. Eventually he came back with the bident. I didn’t know what was such a big deal about it. Until people started to come to challenge for it. Eventually he moved us to America. Something about the magic of the world moving west. Then he perfected the immortality stuff. Made himself older to – uh – ‘blend with the times’ and well…” Lloyd gestured to the arena around him.
“Look,” he said, “I tried to escape hundreds of times those first few years. I stole his own magic from him to fight him, I tried to do it without him knowing. Everything. It never works. He always just ends up killing someone in the group. Or killing all but one…”
“That won’t happen this time,” said TJ.
“Because we’ve got magic too.”
There was a pause. Fake Elan killed Fake Sam. They were running out of time.
“It won’t matter,” said Lloyd.
“Why not?” asked TJ.
“Something will go wrong.”
“I don’t know.”
“I do,” said Kara suddenly.
Everyone shot around to look at her.
“What?” said Reyna.
Kara pointed to the middle of the arena. Mu-yeol and Hazel were facing off, waiting for Gibson’s whistle.
“What?” TJ repeated.
“Your friend,” said Kara, “she’s doing all this herself, right?”
“Is it… I don’t know… taxing?”
“She’s probably a little tired,” said Reyna. “So?”
“She’s about to fight Mu-yeol; probably the best fighter here…”
Elan seemed to catch on. “and you just killed his friend,” he said.
The group looked to the center of the arena just as the whistle blew and Mu-yeol attacked.
Again, the kid was very good. TJ marveled at the skill he had. Even with a sword that must have been heavier than him, Hazel could barely keep up.
Maybe if Hazel could use her magic she could beat him, but there were clearly rules against that. Mu-yeol swung and Hazel launched to the side. When she stood Mu-yeol swung again. Hazel dodged and grabbed Mu-yeol’s arm. He flipped his sword and hit her in the head with his hilt.
Before TJ could move, Hazel crumbled to the ground, unconscious, and all of her illusions flickered and disappeared.
“You get Hazel, I’ve got Gibson,” Sam rushed.
She was talking to Reyna. TJ tried not to feel hurt. As Reyna rushed to Hazel, picking her up, Sam turned to face Gibson.
“Alright,” said TJ, “everybody out.”
TJ held the door open and everyone rushed through as Gibson took out an amulet from a long string of necklace.
“What are you doing?!” Lloyd cried, “she can’t fight him!”
TJ shoved Lloyd through the door as Sam started to run towards Gibson, who was whispered into his amulet, giving himself a slight golden glow. As Sam ran forward, she started to change shape.
Her limbs grew and became stronger, she grew fur, and within the course of the first lung, she had transformed into a giant lioness.
The champions that were still in the arena (basically just Elan, Kara, and Nathan) stopped in the middle of their escape attempt to watch in awe.
Three inches away from devouring Gibson whole, Sam was thrown by a bright golden light and sailed across the room.
Gibson stood with his arms out, smiling slightly. This was just amusing him? Or maybe the magic gave him some type of high.
As Sam flew across the room she changed back into a human. And then she stopped falling. Just stayed in midair, flying a few feet above the ground. She hefted her ax and flew at Gibson again.
Well, she get’s an A for effort, thought TJ.
Gibson knocked her down when she approached. He still hadn’t touched her, but now he grabbed a long knife from his back pocket and raised it above Sam.
TJ grabbed his musket, fully prepared to run forward despite the fact he had no bullets or bayonet. But Mu-yeol got there first.
He slashed his long sword across Gibson’s forearm, drawing blood.
Sam rolled to the side and stood, swinging with her ax.
Reyna appeared next to TJ, carrying Hazel over her shoulder.
“Time to go,” she panted.
They did not need to be told twice. Kara, Elan, and Nathan shot out the door, followed by Reyna, TJ put his hand on the doorknob.
“SAM!” he yelled.
Without even looking, Sam grabbed Mu-yeol around the waist (who was charging in for another strike and looked fairly pissed at being picked up like a rag doll) and flew off towards the door.
TJ stood clear as Sam and Mu-yeol hurtled through and, with a glance at Gibson, he stepped out of the arena, closed the door, and locked it.
“This way,” Sam ordered and everyone followed her.
Up two winding staircases, across some archways, TJ got more and more pissed about how filthy rich Gibson was. They raced through the last winding hallway into a large, well lit room.
“Hey Sam,” he asked. “I hate to be a doubter, but do you know where we’re going?”
“Up those stairs and onto that bridge.”
TJ looked up. There was an indoor bridge with an elegant railing above them.
This house is so extra. No one needs this much crap.
The group went up the stairs and were on the bridge when they heard two loud bangs. One came from up ahead, and one from where they had just been, down below them.
“Gibson,” muttered Elan.
They stood on the bridge. Scared to move forward but scared to go back. Whatever they did they couldn’t stay there, they were completely exposed on the bridge.
There was another bang from below, the sound of a door slamming open and off its hinges. TJ looked around and noticed the ledges of the bridge were big enough for foot holds.
Thank the gods for modern architecture.
“Down here,” hissed TJ.
The others watched as he jumped the railing of the bridge and crouched down so he was completely covered. He used the ledges as hand and foot holds.
The other’s followed his lead. They had just gotten Hazel’s unconscious body situated when the door they had walked through moments early blasted open.
TJ could feel the heat of the spell from his hiding place. What ever kind of magic Gibson had, it packed a big punch.
TJ could here his shoes tap on the stone floors. It reminded TJ how hungry he was.
Yeah that was a weird connection. But hiding from a slave owner while also not having eaten in days was a little too familiar for TJ’s liking. His mind wandered to Loki’s wolves, the vision he saw when bitten.
Gibson walked closer to them.
This is not the time to have an attack of PTSD. He thought, Thomas, calm down.
But he couldn’t help get flashes of crouching behind rocks and tall grass. His mother and step father had taken turns carrying him. He was six years old.
It was the hunger, TJ decided, why he was having sudden memories of his first escape attempt. He was too young to really understand what was happening. He understood that they couldn’t be caught, but he didn’t know why. He didn’t really understand slavery yet.
It was the first time he had felt this type of hunger. The hunger where you could feel your body feed into it’s reserve fat. Where eventually your muscles started to be sacrificed to the constant pain in your stomach.
Close to two weeks in his parents hid TJ underneath grass and rocks and hid themselves under nearby leaves.
That’s when they found his step father. The man who had stepped up and admitted to being TJ’s father. His mother told TJ he had gotten whipped for it. On their farm, slaves weren’t supposed to get married and have sex without the permission of the land owner. When his mother got pregnant and none of the white men came forward, she would have been blamed, if it weren’t for his step father.
They found him first. Then his mother, then him. They let TJ and his mother live. The beat his step father. And killed him.
The man who pulled to trigger looked a bit like Gibson.
TJ hadn’t even noticed that Gibson’s footsteps had died away until everyone around him started to stir. They hopped back over the railing onto the bridge. Then TJ and Sam helped Reyna lift the still unconscious Hazel up and over.
“Nice call,” Sam told him.
There was another bang coming from the room in front of them.
“So if that was Gibson,” said TJ, pointing towards the door in front of them, “who’s that?”
Hesitantly, the group stepped through the doors at the end of the bridge. They emerged into a large corridor. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Sam turned around to look at the group.
“Maybe it was just an echo?”
That’s when TJ saw a figure move behind her.
Quick reaction time. That was what TJ liked about Sam. She had quick reaction time.
Sam rolled to the side before the terracotta medieval knight got to raised its mace.
TJ deflected the blow with his musket. That was a mistake. The gun wasn’t dented, but the impact shook TJ’s bones. He fell backwards.
Whelp, the end, he thought.
Before they were all butchered to death by sharp rock, the knight exploded and landed in a pile by their feet.
TJ saw the arrow before he saw the archer. It rolled to his feet, obviously the culprit of the knight’s demise. Something about it looked familiar.
“Frank!” said Reyna.
Standing in front of the group was the lone Frank Zhang.
“Oh my gods, Hazel.”
Frank ran up to take the unconscious Hazel from Reyna. She didn’t argue.
“I thought we were supposed to do this without waking up the statues?”
“Yeah,” said a familiar voice down the hall, “but what were the odds that would actually work?”
Annabeth stood at the end of the long corridor. She smiled at TJ. He smiled back, standing up.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “we’ve got it covered.”
“How the hell–” Reyna started.
“Never underestimate Percy Jackson and Jason Grace.”
They followed Annabeth and Frank a bit down the corridor and through another pair of double doors. The minute they were opened they all got soaked through.
TJ saw a disgustingly familiar room; the place Gibson drugged him. There were a few key differences though. For one thing, the statues were off of their pedestals, either fighting, or on the ground in pieces.
It was also raining.
A pipe running along the ceiling had burst, spraying water into the room. But the water wasn’t falling the way it should of. It was being whipped around by a the wind. Oh yeah, there was wind too. Also gravity seemed to have no effect on the water. When a droplet got close to the ground it just flew back up again.
There were also the clouds, they were forming near the ceiling, and every once in a while one would shoot lighting and completely disintegrate one of the statues.
When a statue fell apart, a mini hurricane would form, scattering its pieces all over the room.
In the middle of the room, stood two boys, Percy Jackson and Jason Grace. The stood back to back, weapons out but unused. Their eyes were fiery. TJ was almost afraid. He had never seen them like that.
The wind was so strong; the soldiers couldn’t keep their footing. There was only one left, struggling to find its way to a fight. It eventually got swept away by the wind.
“PERCY” Annabeth shouted over the wind and rain.
Suddenly the water all fell to the ground, soaking them even more. The wind stopped, the clouds disappeared and both boys looked over at the group, back to their normal selves.
Percy smile and ran over to Annabeth.
“Hey –” Percy looked at them all and his smile faded slightly, “you’re all wet.”
“Yeah Percy,” said Jason, shaking his head like a dog, “that’s what happens when normal people stand in a storm.”
“Guys Gibson knows we’re out and he’s already searching the building,” said Sam, “I’m surprised he hasn’t caught us yet.”
“Yeah,” said Reyna, “you’d think he’d make a beeline for the bident.”
“Or the exit?” said Kara.
“Both would lead him in this direction.”
“I thought the exit was down the way Gibson went,” said Nathan.
“No,” said Frank, “I don’t know what’s down there.”
“That’s smart,” said Reyna.
“What?” asked Percy.
“Let it slip to the prisoners that the exit is that way, when they try to escape they hit a dead end—”
“And he can just go and pick them up,” TJ finished. He had a bitter taste in his mouth.
“We’d better go,” said Jason, “that won’t keep him for long.”
“Is everyone okay?” asked Annabeth, “besides Hazel?”
The group nodded.
“Alright,” Percy put a pen cap on the tip of his sword. It immediately shrunk in a ballpoint pen. “Let’s go see the others.”